New Venture Challenge Wraps Up 2019 Miller Competition Series

PROVO, Utah – Apr 25, 2019 – Three hundred million tons of plastic waste are produced each year, causing significant harm to wildlife and the environment, according the United Nations Environment Programme. Wanting to help solve this waste problem, four Brigham Young University students have developed a solution to this plastic predicament and took top honors along the way.

Neptune, a student-run company that developed 100 percent biodegradable plastic, made a clean sweep at the New Venture Challenge (NVC) on BYU’s campus, winning a $7,000 prize for both the Founders’ Choice and Crowd Favorite Awards. The NVC is the final round of the Miller Competition Series hosted by the Rollins Center for Entrepreneurship and Technology (CET).

To take first place, the students behind Neptune best adhered to the NVC’s judging criteria of identifying a significant customer pain point, offering a possible solution, and gaining industry traction through entrepreneurial efforts.

“The whole experience has been amazing,” says Marx Acosta-Rubio, one of Neptune’s founding partners. “We are very excited and look forward to the future of our product, which we know can help resolve current environmental concerns.”

This new plastic is made of chitin, a byproduct of shrimp shells that degrades in five days, making it more environmentally friendly than plastic bags and bottles. Members of the Neptune team included economics sophomore Acosta-Rubio from Southlake, Texas; chemical engineering senior Hal Jones from Buffalo Grove, Illinois; and finance senior Grant Christensen from Colleyville, Texas.

Ten teams in total competed in the NVC and were made up of students from more than ten different programs in six colleges across campus. These teams tackled unique challenges from a variety of different fields. One company, Speech Cloud, created an improved transcription service for the hearing impaired. Another startup, Sugarhouse Aerospace, is working to launch affordable rockets into space.

As finalists, participating teams each received $15,000 and an auto-entry into the Founders’ Launchpad program, also part of the Miller Competition Series. This program intensive is designed to mentor students and help accelerate each company’s overall growth.

The products and ideas developed by each team impressed CET associate director of operations Jeff Brown. “The NVC this year has, by far, been the best and most competitive event we’ve ever had here at BYU,” Brown says. “We’ve seen nothing but amazing results from each team so far."

The NVC was created with the intent to implement a lean startup approach for entrepreneurial efforts through the BYU Marriott School of Business. The Miller Competition Series is named after Larry and Gail Miller, who have continually supported the Rollins Center and BYU entrepreneurs.

The Miller Competition Series is open to all majors across campus, explains the student co-director Seth Law, a second-year MBA student from Kaysville, Utah. “The NVC this year was a particularly excellent group of entrepreneurs, and I attribute some of the success to the Miller Competition Series leadership team engaging with students and faculty from different colleges,” Law says. “I am excited to see more growth as these relationships continue and the great ideas that will be developed in the years to come.”

To learn more about the Miller Compeition Series, you can visit miller.byu.edu.

The New Venture Challenge
The 2019 New Venture Challenge saw a variety of students from different educational backgrounds participate. Photo courtesy of BYU Photo.
Anna Nielsen of Acrea 3D
PhD chemistry student Anna Nielsen discusses Acrea 3D. Photo courtesy of BYU Photo.
Neptune Takes First Place
Neptune, winners of the 2019 New Venture Challenge. Photo courtesy of BYU Photo.

Writer: Brittany Salinas