UAFS Hosts Lion’s Lair Business Plan Contest

Nov 30, 2023 | News & Events

The University of Arkansas – Fort Smith concluded its anticipated Lion’s Lair Business Plan Contest on November 30, with an array of innovative student projects. The contest, hosted by the UAFS Center for Economic Development, aimed to foster entrepreneurial skills among undergraduate students.

During Thursday’s live pitch competition, teams presented their business ideas in a one-minute pitch format, hoping to transform their visions into viable small businesses. A panel of regional business leaders including Abe Elsayed, Tom Hanna, and Phil White served as judges. In addition, Provost & Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, Dr. Shadow Robinson judged alongside Dean of the College of Business and Industry, Dr. Latisha Settlage.

“Every student possesses unique ideas that can change the marketplace. This contest is an opportunity to refine those ideas and bring them to life. So many students today have side hustles that they can turn into profitable businesses,” said Bill Sabo, Regional Director of the CED’s Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center at UAFS.

While scores were being tallied, Tiffany Henry, Vice President at Arkansas Capital, a stand-out non-profit lending corporation, emphasized the importance of young entrepreneurs in Arkansas and discussed the Governor’s Cup competition.

Arkansas Capital, which initiated the Governor’s Cup over two decades ago, announced this year significant updates for competition. A new Small Business track for two-year and trade institutions in Arkansas and an expanded Graduate track for students from several neighboring states were highlighted. The 2024 competition boasts a cash prize pool exceeding $124,000.

Sabo encouraged students to participate, highlighting the contest as a platform to transform side hustles into profitable ventures.

The Lion’s Lair contest required participants to submit concise 10-page business plans and deliver one-minute live pitches. Entries were judged on innovation, feasibility, and presentation clarity.

The winners were:

  • Pitch Competition ($200 Prize): TokenWiz by Joe Koller, Eric Johnson, Brice Maguire, a tokenization software solution for investment banks and businesses.
  • 1st Place Business Plan ($1,000 Prize): Natural State Kombucha by Mallory Howerton & Travis Johns, offering unique, Arkansas-inspired kombucha flavors.
  • 2nd Place Business Plan ($500 Prize): Transit Optimizer by Troy Rodriquez & Reyna Lamb, focusing on enhancing public transportation in small-to-medium-sized cities.
  • 3rd Place Business Plan ($250 Prize): TokenWiz, securing another win for its innovative approach.


This contest, apart from providing cash prizes, offers a valuable stepping stone for students to enter the entrepreneurial world, underscoring UAFS’s commitment to fostering innovation and business acumen among its students.

Executive Summaries of the projects, as written by the students, are below:


Joe Koller, Eric Johnson, Brice Maguire

Executive Summary: After extensive research, we’ve observed a direct correlation: when the velocity of money surges during events, economic growth follows suit. Take, for instance, the founding of the New York Stock Exchange, where a sudden surge in investment sparked nationwide and global economic booms. Boosting the velocity of money benefits diverse entities like corporations, banks, and government organizations, enabling more efficient investment and payment approaches. This holds immense appeal for our customers, offering increased capital to fuel their companies’ operations. Investment Banks, especially, can leverage this method as a superior alternative to mutual funds. As demand for this service grows, businesses will seek competitive software solutions to stay ahead in their industries, opening opportunities for tokenization, such as allowing fans to invest in sports stadiums and gain equity in their favorite teams, along with exclusive membership perks.

Natural State Kombucha

Mallory Howerton & Travis Johns

Executive Summary: Natural State Kombucha Co. aims to introduce an Arkansas centric kombucha brand that celebrates the state’s essence through unique, locally inspired flavors. Kombucha is a health-conscious beverage with several benefits. Kombucha is full of probiotics which supports digestion and is also full of enzymes and antioxidants which helps with detoxification. Our commitment to sourcing ingredients from Arkansas farms and crafting flavors like Ozark Orchard, River Valley Raspberry, and Buffalo River Berry will resonate with health-conscious consumers seeking authentic taste. I have grown up drinking kombucha and recently my dad and I began to start making it together at home. My fascination with the health benefits of kombucha stems from witnessing its remarkable effects firsthand. This drink is not just about flavor; it’s a powerhouse of natural benefits. From boosting energy levels to supporting gut health, kombucha seems like nature’s secret remedy for feeling better. It’s fascinating to see how something as simple as a beverage can contribute to overall well-being. Sharing this is not just about recommending a drink, it is about highlighting how small choices like incorporating kombucha can make a difference in our health and vitality. I want to share this passion with others and introduce this revitalizing drink with others in my home state.

Transit Optimizer

Troy Rodriquez & Reyna Lamb

Executive Summary: Transit Optimize aims to revolutionize the commuting experience in small-to-medium-sized cities, focusing on enhancing public transportation. Our comprehensive approach involves collaborating with local governments to design tailored transit networks, addressing the challenges of disjointed systems, irregular schedules, and last-mile hurdles. We aspire to create seamless, efficient, and inclusive urban transportation solutions by integrating micro-mobility options and prioritizing affordability and environmental sustainability.

Environmental sustainability is at the core of our mission. Transit Optimize advocates for eco-friendly commuting alternatives, investing in infrastructure that supports sustainable modes of transport. We envision cities with efficient, environmentally responsible transit systems by prioritizing bright urban designs, walkable infrastructure, and dedicated bike lanes.

Transit Optimize sees commuting challenges in small to medium-sized cities as opportunities for positive transformation. We are committed to building transit solutions that address current challenges and create more sustainable, efficient, and inclusive urban transportation systems through collaboration, innovation, and community-focused strategies.

About the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith: Founded in 1928, the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith has served the citizens of Arkansas for nearly a century, empowering the social mobility of its students and fostering the economic growth of the River Valley. Through dynamic academic programs, innovative research and development, and robust community partnerships, brings the power of education to the nearly 6,000 ambitious students who call it home. A commitment to experiential learning means UAFS students are ready to enter their careers the day they cross the commencement stage, and a dedicated body of faculty and staff who truly care prepare them for success at every stage of life.


Do South Magazine

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