Watch six student startup teams go head-to-head in USC Proving Ground for $50,000

Posted on: 11/12/2013; Updated on: 2/10/2015
By Peggy Binette, 803-777-7704

Six student startup teams will go head-to-head in the University of South Carolina entrepreneurial challenge The Proving Ground and compete in “shark-tank” style on Tuesday, Nov. 19 for $50,000 in prizes and startup support.

Now, it’s the campus and community’s turn to participate by filling the house for the pitch competition. Last year’s event drew a capacity crowd.  The finale will take place at 6 p.m. in Lumpkin Auditorium on the eighth floor of the Darla Moore School of Business. While free, the university asks that people register

“The Proving Ground continues to grow in awards, participation and stature nationally. Our finalists this year will be presenting to an all-star lineup of judges. It promises to be an entertaining and exciting final event. Don’t miss it!,” says Dean Kress, associate director of the Moore School’s Faber Entrepreneurship Center.

 The field of teams will include:

 • $15,000 SCRA Technology Ventures Prize for the best innovative technology idea for the marketplace

 Venture:  “SAGE Energy Solutions,” a clean-energy venture using new technologies and materials to convert transportation fuels into liquefied petroleum gas on demand.

Venture:  “Grumble: Powered by PeopleCents,” a mobile application to revolutionize the way consumers take surveys.

 • $15,000 Fluor Innovation Prize for the most innovative approach to a business concept

 Venture:  “Legal Immersion,” a cultural and language immersion service for the global legal industry.

 Venture: “ZzzSock,” a bedding product that eliminates the everyday hassle of making a bed.

  • $15,000 Maxient Social Impact Prize for the business plan best able to contribute or solve a social or environmental challenge

Venture: “ReligionShare,” a suite of social media sites for users of all religions to gather to talk to fellow members of their faith.

Venture: “GREENFARM,” a sustainable land management and carbon offset credit company.

 In addition to six teams competing in three categories, this year The Proving Ground will feature two teams that will compete for “fan favorite” and $1,000 cash prize. They include “BattleFit,” a GPS-enhanced mobile fitness application that tracks users’ workouts and measures overall fitness progression, and “Sale Abroad,” an online concierge service for students studying abroad.

 In The Proving Ground pitch finale each team will have five minutes to make a compelling case about their venture to a panel of judges. Then, in “shark tank”-fashion, the judges will pepper the presenters with questions about their concept.

This year’s judges will be Katie Petersen, manager of Innovation & Networks, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation; Frank Dalton, founder of Fulcrum Equity Partners; Aaron and Candice Hark, founders of Maxient software company; Craig Heyward, founder of Shore Holdings; and Darrin Thomas, president of Thomas Media Group and founder of Black Pages USA, Inc.

“We are excited to have a talented group of students from across the country and even the globe participating in The Proving Ground this year,” says Greg Hilton, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurial and Technological Innovation (CETi). “With diverse backgrounds pursuing assorted degrees from various colleges and schools at the university, these finalists are bound to give us a unique and entertaining first look into the next big startup.”

The Proving Ground marks the fourth year for USC’s business plan competition, which is held during Global Entrepreneurship Week, an annual observance to unleash new ideas to drive economic growth and improve human welfare. This year, more than 40,000 events will take place in 138 countries. In addition to The Proving Ground, Columbia will host an array of events, which can be found at

For more information about The Proving Ground pitch competition finale Nov. 19, visit the website or email

The Proving Ground partners are the Darla Moore School of Business’ Faber Entrepreneurship Center, CETi and the Office of Economic Engagement.

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