AUBURN, Ala. – When presenting their idea to streamline the construction industry payment processes last spring, Auburn University students Ben Conry and Blair Chenault were told their idea was unrealistic.

Coming from a pitch competition judge, that stung.

Conroy, a senior in civil engineering, whose team finished last in the 2018 Auburn University Tiger Cage student business pitch competition semifinals says the comments cut deep. Blair and I took the weekend off and reflected on our idea, then we called each other on a Sunday afternoon. We were at a crossroads. We asked, ‘Are we going to keep pursuing this idea or give up?’

“Failing fast, iterating, learning, then continuing to build—it’s not failure succumbing you," he said. "It’s not going through a long period and then failing. It’s failing quickly and then saying, ‘What about this didn’t work?’ If none of it works, then you move on to something else. But if there’s some jewels in that failure, you pick those up.”

Conry and Chenault got back to work.

Team “Flashtract” won $35,000 at Auburn’s fifth annual Tiger Cage student business pitch competition Friday, March 29. They received this just two days after being awarded first place and $50,000 at the Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad pitch competition. The award was Presented by the Raymond J. Harbert College of Business, Tiger Cage identifies and rewards the best early-stage products, services and business concepts that emerge from Auburn students.

The team won the industry professional judges’ favor with their software that saves construction project stakeholders, subcontractors and project-owners valuable time and expedites the payment process in the Tiger Cage final round.

Stephens said, “They know their market. They understand who their target needs to be, and the channels to that customer segment is strong. They also have unique skillsets that allows them to provide solutions to problems. They have an intimate understanding of the problems that their customer segment has.”

Flashtract was presented with more than just the $25,000 grand prize. It also won the $5,000 People’s Choice Award, and another $5,000 from Miller Girvin, CEO of Alabama Capital Network, which deemed Flashtract as the “most promising startup.”

Chenault, Flashtract CEO, noted that part of his team’s success is internal growth. It’s not just Chenault and Conry anymore. Terran Ray, a senior in supply chain management, handles product development. Garrett Raab, a junior in software engineering, is web application director. Alex Chenault, a senior in computer science, is head of software development, while Justin Osborn recently earned his bachelor’s degree in software engineering at Auburn and serves as another software developer.

Chenault said, “There’s no way Ben and I could have done this by ourselves and made this much progress.”

“Before, we were doing it in our spare time. We’ve learned the process to be successful. You don’t just have to have a good idea or good product—you have to be able to sell it and communicate it to other people, too, which is what we really had a problem with. Once we were able to nail that down, we were able to consolidate and make a concise pitch, which helps in sales meetings, which helps in these competitions.”

Flashtract will be among 25 teams nationally to showcase its product next month at the prestigious eFest intercollegiate entrepreneurship competition.

Flashtract wasn’t the only student startup to take home prizes. Second place and $10,000 went to Precision Performance Insoles, a device placed within insoles that maps foot structures for comfort. Team members were Jordan Coker, engineering, and Mohamed Badawy, engineering.

The team Parasky, which produces augmented reality in flight cockpits, was presented with the third place $6,000 prize. Team members were Dan O’Leary, engineering management; Fehmi Capanoglu, occupational safety and ergonomics; and Baha Yakupoglu, electrical and computer engineering.

Alabama Boat Club, which provides customers with watercraft they can use rather than own took home fourth place and $4,000. The team was made up of Chad Matthews, business; Henry Brown, business; Matt Heffren, business; and Parker Jones, business. 

Stephens believes the Tiger Cage competition is becoming more competitive each year.

“There’s a lot less difference between winners and even those who don’t make the final round,” he said. “The prospective entrepreneurs on this campus are really buying into the science, and they understand that this stuff is real. You go to some universities and their pitch competitions are more like science projects. Not here. These are viable, revenue-generating businesses launching with customers.”