UGA hosts fifth annual SEC Student Pitch Competition

Vulcan Line Tools from Auburn University emerges from 14-team field

Merritt Melancon | Oct. 28, 2020

Vulcan Line Tool’s Zac Young from Auburn University won first place.
Vulcan Line Tool’s Zac Young from Auburn University won first place.

Young entrepreneurs from 14 Southeastern Conference universities presented their startup ideas at the SEC’s first-ever virtual Student Pitch Competition, hosted Oct. 26 by the University of Georgia’s Entrepreneurship Program

The contest featured the brightest, battle-tested student startup from each SEC institution, ranging from new financial technology to medical devices.

“The SEC is tops in football and other collegiate sports, but it is also tops in creating the next generation of business and community leaders,” said Bob Pinckney, who is the Milton Anthony (Tony) Greene Director of Entrepreneurship at UGA. “The Student Pitch Competition is but one opportunity for the schools in the SEC to get together for networking, exchanging ideas and, of course, some friendly and spirited competition.”

Through two preliminary rounds, the 14 teams pitched to a geographically diverse group of judges that included SEC alumni. The judges then selected three teams to compete in the final round of competition.

At the end of the day-long competition, the first place trophy and $5,000 went to Vulcan Line Tools, founded by Zac Young, a mechanical engineering student from Auburn University.

Young developed the Wave Timer, a handheld device about the size of a cell phone that quickly measures the slack, tension and temperature of power lines. After the poor condition of high-tension power lines was blamed for starting the 2018 Camp Fire that decimated Paradise, California, utilities are eager to make sure their lines are mounted and maintained to engineers’ specifications, Young told the judges.

He plans to use his prize money to purchase an injection mold to help speed the production of his Wave Timers, which he is currently producing from stock instruments and a 3-D printer.

Second place, and $2,000, was awarded to SKYPaws from Texas A&M University. SKYPaws is a wireless medical device that monitors vital signs in animals. It was developed and presented by animal science major Stephanie Young.

Third place, and $1,000, went to Debtle from Louisiana State University. Debtle is an online platform that would allow property managers, medical offices and other businesses to settle bad debts directly with their clients without involving outside collection agencies. LSU Ph.D. candidate Stephanie Hoskins presented Debtle’s plan to the judges.

Each student team had proven success in their university’s startup accelerator programs, so the level of competition was high, Pinckney said. 

“I thought we had a fantastic lineup of companies and technologies,” Pinckney said. “There is clearly a lot of entrepreneurial talent among students all across the SEC. This was a great showcase of just some of that talent, since each school was limited to only one participant.”

The University of Georgia was represented by Valeria Brenner, founder of ThryftShip and the most recent winner of the UGA Entrepreneurship Program’s Idea Accelerator. Brenner studies marketing and international business at the Terry College of Business.

“Overall, the competition was incredibly educational and exciting,” Brenner said. “Even though I didn’t make it to the finals, I had two judges reach out to me to make connections and offer some insights. I could not be happier with the experience and the connections.”

In addition to the pitch contest, participants were able to network with each other, with judges and with entrepreneurs who had come before them to create thriving businesses.

“Being an all-virtual event, this year did present certain challenges for networking opportunities for students, but in some ways it broadened the reach of who was able to participate,” Pinckney said. “We had judges participating from as far away as California, Canada and Washington, D.C. Some of that might, otherwise, have not been possible. We are facilitating those connections virtually to make the most of this networking opportunity.”

Members of the UGA campus planning team for the SEC competition included Pinckney, entrepreneurship lecturer Jim Flannery, and program coordinator Megan Henning.

Pinckney encouraged all UGA students who have an idea to come check out the student center for entrepreneurship at Studio 225 and join the growing community of student entrepreneurs and experiential programs available to them.