ST. GEORGE — Event organizers for the longest-running rural development conference in the nation focused on “innovation through entrepreneurism and partnership” during the 2019 Utah Rural Summit this week.
Utah politicians, businesspeople, educators and students gathered in the Hunter Conference Center at Southern Utah University for the networking and development event Tuesday and Wednesday.
The conference offered a number of presentations and socials for participants, including the event’s first SpeedPitch competition for local entrepreneurs. The competition is meant to support business ideas in the early stages that have high potential to grow and help the community.
Judges heard pitches from 27 entrepreneurs during the first day and narrowed the group to 10 finalists. Each business was given three minutes to present their purpose, products and needs for a chance to win thousands of dollars. Finalists presented ideas ranging from locally-made candles for a cause to “Tindr for dogs.”
Each of the eight judges was given two votes, reserving one of Gov. Gary Herbert’s votes for the “Governor’s Choice Award.” Businesses got to choose prizes for each vote received. A $1,000 Business Growth Award, $500 Flexible Use Award and $750 Audience Choice Award were just a handful of the choices entrepreneurs could pick from.
Mike and LeeAnn Adams received six of the 16 votes and the Audience Choice Award for their app — Mad Freight.
The Parowan couple founded Mad Freight, which Herbert called an “Uber for freights,” after driving through the night to pick up farming equipment in Idaho, which initially sparked the idea for a community-centered delivery service.
After traveling long distances to get necessities and seeing many of their neighbors doing the same, the couple decided to start a business where people could post what they needed and others could earn money for delivering it.
“In today’s day and age, I think we can all agree that next-day air is too slow,” Mike Adams said.
LeeAnn Adams said the app is geared toward people who commute regularly and would like to make a little more money or for people who have to commute long distances to buy groceries.
She said they learned about the competition less than two weeks before the summit and decided to enter because they felt their business was in a good place and needed more help to spread the word.
The couple chose to receive all of the judges’ best business contacts, a $500 Flexible Use Award, a $1,000 accounting start-up package and three $1,000 Business Growth Awards, totaling $4,500 in prizes before the $750 Audience Choice Award. They plan to use their prize money to market the business.
Judges also awarded Joshua Price, an assistant professor of economics and finance at SUU, two of the 16 votes and the Governor’s Choice Award for his Build-A-Course pitch that would significantly reduce textbook costs for students.
“Being in higher education, something I find really important is trying to reduce the cost for students,” he said. “I think the governor of Utah realizes that and he’s trying to find the best way to benefit students.”
Price proposed an online tool for professors to design their own courses and maintain ownership of their intellectual property. With current sites, he said, professors are putting in sleepless nights and hours of work for lessons they lose ownership of, so many educators resort to textbooks for their classes, which encourages publishers to maintain high prices.
With Build-A-Course, educators retain the rights to the information that is published and students pay into a course for $50, which is significantly cheaper than the $200 textbook he was requiring only years ago.
“Really, we’re trying to save the students money and provide the same – if not better – education.”
The professor chose the opportunity to teach entrepreneurship skills to inmates in a high-security prison and a $1,000 legal start-up package.
Price said events like the SpeedPitch Competition allow for entrepreneurs to learn from each other and for consumers to hear ideas from area business owners.
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