UM Student Business Startup Challenge Returns for 34th Year

UM student Finan Lund-Andersen presents at the 2022 John Ruffatto Startup Competition, where he earned the contest’s Intent to Launch Award.

April 18, 2023


MISSOULA – The state’s most exciting student startup competition returns to the University of Montana this April. The public is invited to attend the 34th annual John Ruffatto Startup Challenge, presented by the UM College of Business, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 28, in Gallagher Business Building Room 106.

The competition, sponsored by Ontra Marketing Group and Missoula Economic Partnership, is open to select students enrolled in higher education across Montana. It provides more than $50,000 in prize money to students who pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

Businesses, organizations and individuals committed to the future of entrepreneurship in Montana provide all of the prize money for the event and participate as judges. Competitors pitch a vast array of venture ideas. Previous winning concepts include such things as filtering brewery wastewater with mushrooms and cricket farms for edible protein.

A record number of applications were received for the 2023 competition, with 76 different teams entering the event. From those applications, a top-12 were selected, representing multiple majors and levels. Each of these teams has the unique opportunity to present and network with business professionals and community leaders attending the final-round presentations.

From the top-12 that will pitch to judges throughout the day, a final four will be selected to pitch during the public finals at 5:30 p.m. on April 28. The live finals are free and open to the public. Doors to the event open at 4:30 p.m., with the main programming beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Now in its third decade, challenge finalists include a number of established Montana businesses, including Five on Black Brazilian Grill, Market on Front, Morphose Exercise Systems, GeoFli and Big Sky Brewing.

For more information visit the John Ruffatto Startup Challenge webpage. For questions regarding the competition, email Erik Guzik at

2023 Finalists

Pop-Ins Care Match (University of Montana – Alaina Cain): Our solution for affordable childcare revolves around the idea to utilize possible caregivers and adjust working hours to make it more flexible and appealing to providers while making it organized, efficient and affordable to parents. The premise of the application would be that of Uber or AirBnB, meaning using an underutilized resource to benefit the end user.

Lab 19 (University of Montana – Carly Dahms): The purpose of Lab 19 is to raise the value and entertainment standard for sports events – specifically in enclosed arenas (like hockey rinks) because the FAA does not regulate the airspace. Meaning, it is easier to plan and operate drone shows without the interference of government entities. Lab 19 is different from other drone light show companies because of our ability to perform in enclosed buildings.

Ed-Visor (University of Montana – Ellie Gashwiler and Jason Firth): Registering for classes is overwhelming and confusing due to the limited information available for students. Our startup seeks to solve this by giving information through interactive quizzes that match students to their best-suited classes. We aim to empower students to be confident in their academic selections in order to lower class/school dropout rates, increase class attendance and raise grades. No student wants to waste money and no school wants to lose students.

Renewably Consulting LLC (University of Montana – Samuel Gilbertson): A boutique sustainability consulting firm, Renewably empowers businesses to adopt sustainable strategies and practices that drive positive environmental impact and financial success. We provide expert guidance and customized solutions to help clients reduce their carbon footprint, engage their employees and improve resource efficiency. Our mission is to enable organizations to operate environmentally and socially responsibly and contribute to a more sustainable future for all.

RestReviews (University of Montana – Avery Holden and John Milton): RestReviews is the latest app to prevent picking the wrong place to poo. We are putting the “rest” back in the “room.” The app allows users to make the best decisions on what restrooms to visit andavoid, and also allows users to leave a review of different restrooms they have visited. A user downloads the app and either browses from past user restroom reviews or takes the opportunity to create a new review with ease.

PlayAway (University of Montana – Carlisle Jones): As a lifelong musician, I have always been frustrated with the problem of being unable to practice when away from home due to the hassles and risks of traveling with an instrument. PlayAway seeks to create a user-friendly online marketplace in which customers can rent instruments from other individuals or retail stores. We want to be of service to touring professionals, as well as hobbyists, and make renting instruments as easy as booking a Turo.

BioFitness (University of Montana – Aanen Moody): This is a 10-week online course with instructional videos. This gives people a taste of what BioFitness does. We then will open a local gym where we can take in-person clients. The ultimate goal is to have trainers who are educated in functional fitness to help guide our clients back to health.

Eco-Wrap (University of Montana – Ani Nesheim Ferguson): Eco-Wrap is the use of recycled materials to create a fabric gift wrap that ties at the top and unties for later reuse. To go along with this, we would also create bags from the same material. If possible, we would like to be able to partner with any fast fashion factory to collect scraps from those who create the most waste.

Not Your Grandmother’s (University of Montana – Frank Redisi): The Not Your Grandmother's brand was born out of my passion for good food and hatred for currently available edible marijuana products. In an industry in which the current quality ranges from disgusting to subpar, a change needs to be made. Creating high-end, artisanal edibles would solve this problem. The purpose of this product is to raise the standard for edible marijuana products and eventually dominate a quickly growing recreational marijuana industry.

Attested Locomotion (University of Montana – Zach Roosa): We would work with consumers and hospitals to print simple and fast prosthetic equipment for users awaiting their new or replacement prosthetics, which often come with a three- to six-week wait time in which universal and non-customized prosthetics offer significant discomfort to the consumer. We would print a same-day, 3-D, simplified-but-still-customized leg to allow the consumer more comfort during this transition period.

The Morning Tee (TMT) (University of Montana – Drew Schlimgen and Isabella Garrard): “The Morning Tee” (TMT) is a free golf application that acts as a coach and companion for golfers. The way the app functions starts with the user feeding footage of their swing into the app. A standard swing analysis algorithm crunches the data and gives it to AI, which then translates numbers into natural language and acts as an e-coach. (i.e translating “increase swing speed by 10.2%” into “try swinging a bit faster next time!”).

Quintessential Ideas (University of Montana - Trinitee Powell): Quintessential Ideas produces handmade notebooks and journals for people who write and plan at home and on the go! The journals feature beautiful cover art, themed dividers, and matching stickers to give users something to fuel their creativity. The notebooks are durable, featuring double-fan bound spines, hard and weather resistant covers, and high quality paper that will hold up to heavy use.


The University of Montana is the flagship university of the state. The College of Business at UM is nationally renowned and has been named the top business school in the Big Sky Conference by U.S. News and World Report for seven consecutive years.