University of Portland
Contact: John Furey, Joe Kuffner

Mechanical engineering students win second annual $100K Challenge, a business plan competition

University of Portland students Amy Flora, Shawn Ell, and Jared Johnston became the for-profit business group winner of the University’s second $100K Challenge, an expanded business plan competition hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurship and the Launch Pad group.

The group’s winning business idea, Phantom Orthopedics, aims to create a new insert for knee replacements. The unique design of the insert would target younger, athletic people in need of a knee replacement with a lighter design. The idea stemmed from the group’s senior design project in the Shiley School of Engineering. All three of the winning students are seniors majoring in mechanical engineering.

“We have been working on this project for over a year,” Flora said. “It is so exciting that we won the competition.”

The students submitted their business plan to the $100K Challenge because of the feedback they received from engineering professors.

“Our professors believed in our idea and thought it could be marketable,” Johnston said. “This competition allowed us to have an entrepreneurial mindset about our project.”

Second place for the for-profit category was Monica Down and her business The Road Therapy. Down is a junior majoring in English.Third place went to Cool Body which consisted of Zach McMullen and Aaron Morris, both seniors majoring in mechanical engineering.

The $100K Challenge is supported by Launch Pad, a group of donors and friends of the University of Portland who aim to monetize the ideas of students as well as strengthen the alumni network.

For-profit finalists who eventually start their companies and move forward with their business plan are eligible to receive up to $50,000 in investment and up to $50,000 in in-kind service support from the UP Launch Pad fund and other sponsor partners.

Brian Dexheimer, Launch Pad Advisory Committee member, was a judge for the final round of last Saturday’s competition. Dexheimer is a 1984 graduate of the University of Portland.

“It’s very impressive to see all the great ideas from these students,” Dexheimer said. “This competition is a great opportunity for students to pursue their dreams.”

Jon Down, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, called upon successful business entrepreneurs to help with the competition.

“We got together a great group of mentors and judges for the $100K Challenge,” Down said. “It’s a great way for the students to share what they are doing to these friends of the university as well as the broader community.”

The Center for Entrepreneurship has held similar business plan competitions in previous years. Last year was the inaugural year of the $100K Challenge. Prior to that, the University of Portland has hosted a $16K Challenge for 12 years.

Many students from various majors competed in the business plan competition. Twenty teams competed in the for-profit category while three teams presented for the non-profit realm. The teams presented business pitches and answered questions from the judges following their presentation.

Pat Johnson, a 1986 graduate of the university and a board of regent, was excited to judge the final round of presentations for the for-profit category.

“During judging, I really looked for unique products and services as well as a strong market plan to consumers,” Johnson said. “I was very impressed by the students’ sophisticated presentations.”

Graduate student Donna McFall and her organization Share The Stories took home first place in the non-profit competition. Share The Stories focuses on the oral history of elders and allows for participants to pass along their heritage.    

“It feels really good to win,” said McFall, who is majoring in drama. “I received wonderful feedback from the judges and I am excited for my organization to take shape.”

Second place in the non-profit category was Jane Strugatsky's organization Treated Right. Strugatsky is a senior majoring in environmental ethics & policy. Third place went to Project Starter which consisted of Brock Vasconcellos, a junior majoring in history, and Sarah Nanbu, a senior majoring in environmental ethics & policy.

Next year’s $100K Challenge will take place on Saturday, April 27, 2013.

For more information, please contact Jon Down, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at or 503-943-7781.

The University of Portland is an independently governed Catholic university guided by the Congregation of Holy Cross. U.S. News & World Report ranks the institution as one of the top ten regional universities in the West. It is the only school in Oregon to offer a College of Arts & Sciences, a graduate school, and nationally accredited programs in the schools of business, education, engineering, and nursing.

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