Before last fall, Auburn University students Jake Wright, Cole Kinchler and Sharan
Kalva had plenty of ideas for potential businesses but no concrete plan for bringing
those concepts to life.
Since competing in Tiger Cage, a competition for Auburn University student entrepreneurs, they’ve proven to be
quick studies in building a viable business from scratch. They will launch their company,
SimplyProse, a collaborative online platform for writers, editors, publishers and
literary agents, later this month in San Francisco at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference for startups. They were one of two former Tiger Cage teams to reach the
finals of the Alabama Launchpad, a statewide entrepreneurship competition, in August and earned $40,000 in funding.
“Without [Tiger Cage], we would not be where we are as a company,” said Wright, CEO
of SimplyProse and a Raymond J. Harbert College of Business finance major.
Auburn undergraduate and graduate students with grand ideas for early-stage product,
business or service concepts will soon have an opportunity to follow a similar path.
The launch meeting for the second Tiger Cage competition will be held Wed., Sept.
23, at 5 p.m. in Lowder Hall 125. Sponsored by the Harbert College of Business and
the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation, Tiger Cage is open to students from all disciplines and offers a grand prize of
$10,000 in funding and $30,000 in legal assistance.
Before working to earn a spot in the finals of the 2016 Tiger Cage, which will be
held on April 22 as part of the Auburn University Entrepreneurship Summit, Tiger Cage competitors will participate in multiple mentorship sessions with Auburn
faculty and alumni business leaders. Wright said those sessions played a vital role
in helping his team gain comfort in making business pitches.
“Tiger Cage allowed us the space to learn from our mistakes and provided us with a
network of support and mentors we would not have otherwise had access to,” Wright
said. “I would encourage any student with an idea to try it. Even if you ultimately
decide against pursuing the business, you’ll learn something about yourself. At the
very least, you’ll leave with a basic understanding of the principles of entrepreneurship
and a network of individuals eager to help you down the road.”
The four finalists in the 2015 Tiger Cage pitched to a panel that included original
“Shark Tank” judge Kevin Harrington, as well as representatives of leading venture
capital firms. SimplyProse Chief Operating Officer Cole Kinchler, a senior supply
chain management major in the Harbert College of Business, said that experience ensured
he and his teammates wouldn’t be intimidated by other business pitch settings.
“With Tiger Cage, we basically had a year of learning and preparation – figuring out
how to put a business plan together, how to come up with an idea, how to make your
idea a real thing,” Kinchler said. “We had a great foundation to build on. If we didn’t
do Tiger Cage, I don’t think it would have happened.”
Engineering students Alex Wakefield and Jonathan Philip won the first Tiger Cage competition
with their concept, Parking Grid Technologies, app-based software that alerts commuters
to available parking spaces on demand. “The most valuable lesson that I learned through
Tiger Cage was that what you say is not nearly as important as how you say it,” Wakefield
said. “Perhaps the way you explain an idea can often be more valuable than the idea
Tiger Cage teams certainly aren’t lacking in imagination or quality. One team that
fell just short of the Tiger Cage finals, Tennibot, a ball-retrieving robot for tennis
enthusiasts conceived by business and engineering students, earned a spot among the
six finalists at Alabama Launchpad.
“You get to learn about creating business plans, finance and about building and managing
teams,” said Kalva, a member of SimplyProse and a senior in engineering. “It is free
practical education. The competition is a serious environment and you will be competing
against very good teams, so give it your best from the start.”