Five hungry startups from around the country met March 30 at Northwestern University to pitch their businesses to Under Armour founder and CEO Kevin Plank for more than $100,000 in cash prizes.
SwineTech, which calls itself a “superhero” for piglets, took home the top prize of $75,000 for a product that helps farmers prevent piglets from being accidentally crushed to death in the pen by mother sows.
“Succeeding at this level means being at the top of your game,” said Melissa Kaufman, executive director of The Garage, Northwestern’s hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation. “It requires the perfect pitch of a compelling product-market solution.”
The five finalists — including a team that originated at Northwestern — emerged from more than 400 national applicants. They gave brief presentations and faced tough questions from a panel of four judges. Plank was joined by Jim Phillips, Northwestern vice president for athletics and recreation, Jerri DeVard of the DeVard Marketing Group and Clay Dean, chief innovation officer of Under Armour.
Plank brought Cupid’s Cup on the road for the first time after hosting it at his alma mater, the University of Maryland, for the past 11 years. Competition officials called Northwestern the perfect launch point for a new era of growth.
“Northwestern’s interdisciplinary ecosystem and emphasis on collaboration position us to be a leader in student-founded ventures,” Kaufman said. “From inventive research to big ideas founded in class and brought to life at The Garage, Northwestern celebrates entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Other winners were NaturAll Club, a fresh fruit-based hair product maker, and automated lighting system Luna Lights, led by Northwestern alumnus Donovan Morrison, who was introduced on stage by surprise guest Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern’s head football coach.
Also competing were LearnLux, which uses online tools to help millennials learn personal finance, and PiperWai, maker of a charcoal-activated deodorant.
The Cupid’s Cup name refers to one of Plank's first businesses, Cupid's Valentine Rose Delivery, which he started as a student at Maryland. His profits became seed money for Under Armour, one of the world’s largest makers of athletic performance gear.