group photo of winners of the third annual Lumberjack Entrepreneurship Competition

Stephen F. Austin State University’s Arnold Center for Entrepreneurship in the Rusche College of Business recently held the third annual Lumberjack Entrepreneurship Competition, inspired by ABC’s TV show “Shark Tank.” Pictured, from left, are Brady Dill, a senior history major from Spring, who won the first-place prize of $10,000 for Sauce Dudes; Jordan Gonzales, a senior entrepreneurship major from Nacogdoches, who earned the $5,000 second-place prize with Beyond the Vine Cellars; Wyatt Brasher, an entrepreneurship junior from Texas City, who received the $2,500 third-place prize for Immersify; and Nykia Benit, a first-year hospitality administration major from Hutchins, and Paulina Salazar, a management senior from Center, who earned $1,250 each for Kingdom Kitchen and JackTrack Parking, respectively.

NACOGDOCHES, Texas — From recording studios to lobbyist apps, Stephen F. Austin State University students pitched their business ideas to win the third annual “Shark Tank”-style Lumberjack Entrepreneurship Competition April 26.

“It takes a lot of moxie to stand up and say, ‘I’ve got an idea that is worth investing in,’” Matthew Smilor, director of the Rusche College of Business’ Arnold Center for Entrepreneurship, told contestants. "Year after year, I'm consistently amazed by the creativity and innovation of SFA's students. Their ingenuity, determination and passion are truly inspiring.”

Contestants were judged on the market opportunities for their businesses as well as their situational awareness, pitches, business models and go-to-market strategies by three judges: Jenny Meyer, SFA alumna and president and CEO of JEM Advisors in Houston; Kevin Carr, SFA alumnus and owner of Community Beer Co. in Dallas; and Bill McGaughey, SFA alumnus, certified public accountant and entrepreneur based in Lufkin.

The competition began with the lightning round, during which 12 students pitched their ideas. The judges narrowed down the contestants to five finalists, who presented longer pitches during the final round.

“The competition was really fierce,” said Dr. Raymond Jones, associate professor and director of the entrepreneurship program at SFA. “Each of the finalists was prepared and handled the tough questions from the judges very well.”

The first-place prize of $10,000 went to Sauce Dudes, an online platform that delivers “only the best gourmet sauce and spice blends to market from southern style recipes,” by Brady Dill, a senior history major from Spring. Jordan Gonzales, a senior entrepreneurship major from Nacogdoches, earned the $5,000 second-place prize with Beyond the Vine Cellars, a mobile wine trailer for events. The $2,500 third-place prize went to Wyatt Brasher, an entrepreneurship junior from Texas City, for Immersify event-planning software with augmented- and virtual-reality features to help clients truly see how an event will look.

The two remaining finalists who earned $1,250 each were hospitality administration first-year student Nykia Benit of Hutchins with Kingdom Kitchen, a junior culinary arts school, and Paulina Salazar, a management senior from Center, with JackTrack Parking, a parking app that highlights open spaces on the SFA campus. 

“I am extremely grateful to be awarded the win in this difficult competition,” Dill said. “The other competitors were fantastic, and I am humbled to be selected as the winner. I plan to use my winnings to help grow my business into something profitable for years to come. I’d also like to thank the judges for giving us their valuable time.”

To learn more about the competition, center and SFA’s entrepreneurship program, visit the Arnold Center for Entrepreneurship website.  

Stephen F. Austin State University, the newest member of The University of Texas System, began a century ago as a teachers’ college in Texas’ oldest town, Nacogdoches. Today, it has grown into a regional institution comprising six colleges — business, education, fine arts, forestry and agriculture, liberal and applied arts, and sciences and mathematics. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SFA enrolls approximately 11,000 students while providing the academic breadth of a state university with the personalized attention of a private school. The main campus encompasses 421 acres that include 37 academic facilities, nine residence halls, and 68 acres of recreational trails that wind through its six gardens. The university offers more than 80 bachelor’s degrees, more than 40 master’s degrees and four doctoral degrees covering more than 120 areas of study. Learn more at the SFA website