Two McDaniel College students' dream of improving transportation opportunities in the county for individuals with disabilities just moved $10,000 closer to being reality Monday evening, as their nonprofit Ride With Pride took home the grand prize at the school's annual Innovation Challenge business competition.
This is the second year for the Innovation Challenge, where students propose business and nonprofit ideas for the chance to win cash prizes, with a $10,000 grand prize, $5,500 second prize and $2,500 prize for third. McDaniel professor Bryn Upton, director of the school's entrepreneurship program, The Encompass Distinction, said this year's event was bigger and better than the last, with students and faculty now able to look at the inaugural year as a model.
"I think the level of polish for the first-timers is higher than last time," Upton said. "What's nice is, a couple of teams participated in the Carroll County Hackathon, and what they did was build upon what they learned there and brought the new elements here."
The winning team, Ride With Pride, consisted of freshman Justin Arter, from Waldorf, and junior Louis Schaab, from Laurel. Their nonprofit pitch was to create a transportation service in Carroll County specifically for individuals with disabilities. Lewis said one of the key plans of the organization would be to customize vehicles other than the traditional vans and buses to destigmatize transportation for those with disabilities.
"If you were to ask me, it isn't that there's anything wrong with a minivan, however, I personally wouldn't want to be in one," Schaab said. "So personally, my dream vehicle is a Jeep, and I was thinking how we could make a Jeep or any type of SUV handicap accessible."
Through the use of federal grants and their prize winnings, Ride With Pride plans to purchase and convert its first vehicle, through FR Conversions, a company that specializes in converting handicap-accessible vehicles and moved to Carroll in 2015.
Arter said the idea for the nonprofit came about from the story of a Carroll Community College student who lacked accessible, reliable and affordable transportation to class each day. The two said they planned to partner with organizations like The Arc Carroll County, CHANGE Inc. and others for a reliable customer base.
The event was judged by Kristen Ellis, the winner of the 2016 Carroll Biz Challenge; Kristine Harjes, an analyst at The Motley Fool and a McDaniel graduate; and Danielle Rowlett Tate, CEO of MissNowMrs.com and the author of "Elegant Entrepreneur: The Female Founder."
Harjes said she was blown away by the professionalism of all of the entrants, but was very happy with the selection of Ride With Pride for the top prize.
"They're doing an incredible thing here," Harjes said. "They identified an impact they can make, and it's easy to see how the money could go to help out."
The second prize winner of the night was D1V3RG3NT, presented by sophomore Zach Fortuna of Metuchen, N.J. For his business, Fortuna designed and constructed a piece that combined multiple tailgating games into a single unit. The piece starts as a large table, for games like flip cup or beer pong, but can be broken down into cornhole boards and a KanJam-style frisbee game.
Third place, this year, was decided by audience vote. The entrant with the most votes that was not selected by judges for the first or second prize went home with $2,500. The audience winner was BookSwap, an app that allows college students looking to sell their used textbooks to meet up with those looking to purchase them to make the process more local and financially lucrative than selling online or back to the campus bookstore.
The other finalists, narrowed down to five businesses from an original field of 17, were RunInTwo, a social media app for runners looking to share route information with each other and Service Dog Therapy, which looked to bring therapy dogs to the McDaniel campus on a weekly basis while selling students' information to health insurance companies.