Generating A+ ideas – BYU’s Business Plan Competition awards start-up

In the beginning the tree was created, and it was good.

When man decided to pot those trees, it turned bad.

And that is the point Brent Walker wants to sell.

Now the Brigham Young University undergraduate has to convince tree growers nationwide that growing plants in pots isn’t good business. And with an additional $50,000, he may succeed.

By Jordan Burke
Deseret Morning News,1249,595054017,00.html

Walker, Chris Call and Brian Farnsworth set up their Superoots USA company to evangelize the benefits of a new potting technology called Air-Pots. The business idea was good enough to win BYU’s Business Plan Competition Friday, netting the team $25,000 in cash and another $25,000 in in-kind services.

Now in its 11th year, the competition aims to discover new talent around the BYU community.

"This is pretty real-world experience," said Gary Williams, assistant director of the BYU Center for Entrepreneurship.

Williams, who also acts as the faculty adviser for the competition, said the business models are entirely student-driven.

This year competition organizers attempted to get more participation from the whole campus instead of just BYU’s business school. The campuswide push netted a 40 percent increase in business plans submitted, pitting 55 groups against each other in the for-profit category.

The competition, which doled out roughly $120,000 in cash and in-kind services, started four weeks ago in the first of three rounds. But the process started almost a year ago when contestants viewed the last competition, said director Michael Hennessy. Later in November, applicants had to submit their ideas, and in March they turned in their polished plans. After competitors reached the semifinal level, the center matched them up with mentors to improve their plans.

Joe Ollivier, who works at First Capitol and mentored Superoots, said mentors are "looking at what’s realistic. These are not projects that were started six weeks ago."

Many of the businesses already have been in operation but need more funding. Superoots already has an operating income of around $130,000.

"They have hands-on experience," Ollivier said of some of this year’s applicants.

Several corporation presidents and venture capitalists judged the contest. When the final tally was in, the competition ended with one winner and a tie for second place. T-Spline, a three-dimensional software modeling company, and Paleteria Tropicool, a Mexican ice cream and Popsicle business, split the second- and third-place winnings.

"If I go through this process, I know I can launch my business," Williams said.

As for Walker, he started in the tree business at age 3 when he watered his first plant, a fact he loves to point out.

Now teamed up with Call, Farnsworth and Walker’s father, a veteran tree grower, the company will market the Air-Pot to America.

Normally, root systems circularly wrap in potted plants because they cannot escape the impenetrable pot. But with Air-Pots, roots are allowed to grow directly away from the trunk without wrapping around it.

The plastic Air-Pot is circular in shape, but it has holes or pores to let roots extend beyond the pot walls. Once the roots grow beyond the pot, their tips die off, leaving the remaining portion inside and alive.

This method keeps roots from netting themselves together. It also helps simulate tree growth in the wild, where they typically live three to four times longer than trees grown or started in pots, Walker said.

The Air-Pot was developed by the Scottish Caledonian Tree Company. Under an agreement with the that company, Superoots has full rights to sell the product in the Western United States. The remaining territory is covered under a joint agreement with Caledonian. Walker said he hopes Superoots will gain nationwide sales rights in the future.

"The nursery industry isn’t the most exciting industry," Walker said in a statement. "So I think part of the reason we advanced is that we’ve already marketed and sold Air-Pots and have a scaleable business."

E-mail: [email protected]

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