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McDaniel student's business idea wins $10,000 prize

McDaniel student's business idea wins $10,000 prize
Nicole Rutherford presents her proposal during the $10.000 Innovation Challenge at McDaniel College Monday night in Westminster. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Nicole Rutherford, a McDaniel senior from Westminster, has dreamed of opening her own wellness center since she was 16. That dream just got $10,000 closer to becoming a reality after she took first place at the inaugural McDaniel College Innovation Challenge Finals on Monday evening.

The event brought five teams of McDaniel students head-to-head Monday evening as they pitched their proposals in a battle for a trio of cash prizes — $10,000 for first place, $5,500 for second and $2,500 for third.

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The proposals were judged by Steve Moore, owner of Run Moore and former winner of the Carroll Biz Challenge; Debbie Seidel in enterprise risk management at T Rowe Price; and Steve Chapin Jr., founder of LifeMinders.com Inc. and JARS Residential Properties LLC.

Each student was given five minutes for their presentation time, before being subjected to a barrage of questions from the judging panel. The panel forced groups to discuss the true demand for their product, emphasized accuracy of numbers and pressed speakers on the nitty gritty, crashing their dreams against the rocky shores of reality.

McDaniel professor Bryn Upton, director of the schools' entrepreneurship program, The Encompass Distinction, described the event as the culmination of years of work on the McDaniel campus to try and encourage business leadership among its students.

"This generation has a bit of a DIY streak," Upton said. "This is a way to showcase the kinds of work our students are doing and inspire them to build something new."

Upton said he hopes the challenge becomes an annual tradition on the campus, as a permanent inspiration for business-minded students of all majors.

Initially more than 50 teams expressed interest in the competition, but 20 ended up following through with the submission process. The field was eventually narrowed down to five for the finals Monday evening.

The finalists included the Financial Literacy Project — by students Nina Breece, of Petaluma, Calif.; Tyler Krebs, of Selinsgrove, Pa.; and Allen Calvert, of Rohrersville — a business designed to teach young adults money management skills, through workshops.

Ryan Lutes, of Lawrenceville, N.J., pitched his existing business, Ryan Lutes LLC, a company that distributes and recycles waste containers with embedded radio-frequency identification tags so they can be tracked and returned.

Artisanal beverage company Panta Rhei was pitched by Tyler Van Dyke, of Aspers, Pa., and Jeb Shingler, from Hagerstown. The company planned to create kombucha drinks from locally sourced fruits and ingredients, to be sold at restaurants throughout Westminster.

Josh Peeling, from Perry Hall, pitched a new social media app called Weavr that would pair people of similar interests who are within a mile of each other. The app would encourage face-to-face meetups between folks who enjoy the same things.

Finally, Nicole Rutherford described her plans for Flourished, a beauty and wellness center that would feature a team of specialists working with clients on their health and beauty goals.

It was Rutherford's experience — five years of working in the beauty industry — that most impressed Chapin. He said he primarily was looking at ideas' feasibility and a community's need for such a service. Rutherford said she hoped to stand out among Westminster's salons by focusing on the total body experience.

She said she was stunned to end up taking home the check for $10,000.

"I had hoped that I would win third place, or something like that," Rutherford said. "I didn't dream I would end up coming out in first."

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With graduation looming in May, Rutherford said she hopes to use the money to help get her business off the ground within two years.

"I first came up with this idea in high school," Rutherford said. "It's amazing that it's now one step closer to being reality."

Ryan Lutes LLC took home second place, while Panta Rhei came in third.

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