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UGA engineering students win product pitch contest

Another successful cycle of the University of Georgia’s FABricate Entrepreneurial Initiative wrapped up Tuesday night at the Delta Innovation Hub, with a sustainable pool-maintenance solution winning the $10,000 grand prize.

Pool Protection Technologies, founded by UGA College of Engineering students Garrett Stigall and Guy Gober, highlighted its high-quality sound-amplifying machine that treats algae growth in pools.

Using ultrasonic waves, SAM directly targets the cells in algae and removes them without the use of chemicals. Designed to reduce the costs and effects of traditional chemical application, SAM is a battery-powered device programmed to sit on the edge of the pool.

Both engineering students had competed in the program at earlier stages of their business careers. Although they have consistently placed well in regional pitch contests outside the university, neither had previously experienced the success they achieved Tuesday.

“You can’t give up, even after failures. I’ve participated in FABricate four times, and even though I wasn’t successful previously, I learned so much valuable information to build on year after year,” Stigall said.

Though the competition comes with a hefty cash prize for a startup company, the program is designed to emphasize mentorship and sustainable development to help students create a functional business model and eventually head to market.

Throughout all stages of the competition, students connect with multiple judges from various industries who ask real-world questions to help prepare them. It is all a crucial part of developing a successful business, said Chris Rhodes, CAES director of industry partnerships.

CAES alumnus Keith Kelly, president of Kelly Products, has been a dedicated supporter of the annual entrepreneurial pitch contest.

“The most gratifying part of the program was the honesty of the judges,” said Gober. “It’s really shown throughout the years and helped us with refining our business model and our product. It’s very gratifying to hear the truth more and more. We know we’ve improved a lot.”

Stigall and Gober plan to launch a marketing campaign this summer and pursue sales in Georgia and Florida.

“This seemed to be the most polished group of students we’ve had in the four years that I’ve been here,” Rhodes said. “It really reflects the engagement that they’ve had with other parts of the entrepreneurship and innovation community at UGA and reflects that they kept coming back for advice and mentorship and built out their pitches and business plan.”

The annual FABricate competition is hosted by the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) but is open to all students from any of UGA’s schools and colleges. Just two of the six finalists were from CAES with the others representing the Terry College of BusinessOdum School of Ecology and the College of Engineering.

Industry judges Jennie Orr (left) and Kalob Williams listen to final pitches in the 2024 FABricate competition.

In addition to Pool Protection Technologies, the 2024 FABricate finalists were:

  • Afia Lockett, runner-up and founder of Afia’s Leaf, an ancestral herb shop.
  • Derek Bullard, founder of Victory Garden, a plant incubator consumer appliance.
  • Sean Snarey, founder of TRS, a mechanical engineering company that automates the process of hanging poultry inside production facilities.
  • Michael Hearnes, founder of Midnight Snackzzz, a healthier and more targeted solution to satisfy late-night cravings.
  • Rosemary Durant, co-founder of Algae Tree, carbon-removing art installations for companies looking to reduce their carbon footprint.

“FABricate is connecting different parts of the university in a way that you don’t always see,” Rhodes said. “My favorite part of the whole thing is that you see students who would not have met each other otherwise helping each other develop their businesses and their programs and staying friends even after they graduate.”

Judges for the finale were Keith Kelly, 1980 CAES graduate and president of Kelly Products; Jennie Orr, senior vice president of strategic planning at Premier Research; and Kalob Williams, managing director for Renewable Resources Group.

About FABricate

FABricate is an annual entrepreneurial pitch contest where students develop their ideas for a new food product, new agricultural technology, new food or agriculture-related business, or new environmental or sustainability business.

To learn more about the contest, visit caes.uga.edu/fabricate.

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