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Student entrepreneurs take center stage at UGA’s inaugural FABricate competition

Broder and Lafian-h
UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Joe Broder congratulates fourth-year horticulture student Jesse Lafian

Athens, Ga. – From a smart irrigation system for the home landscape to a new recipe for a protein-packed meal on the go, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences students have some great ideas.

Those great ideas were front and center Wednesday evening as the college celebrated the finale of its inaugural FABricate student entrepreneurship contest-a multi-month program in which teams developed new agricultural technologies, food products, and food- and agriculture-related startups, and pitched them to business leaders.

Students were given $1,500 in seed money to develop their products and business ideas as far as they could in six months. The team in each category with the most innovative and best-developed idea won $1,000 per team member. An overall winner was selected and a People’s Choice Award was also presented.

“Universities have long been institutions that foster inquiry and investigation into nature and discovery,” said CAES Dean Sam Pardue. “This program helps students transfer that curiosity and their ingenuity into an innovative business idea or product for the marketplace.”

The competition enabled UGA students to expand their leadership and business skills. In addition to seed money, the college provided coaching and guidance from faculty mentors as well as monthly seminars from successful entrepreneurs.

Undergraduate students submitted business ideas in three categories: new food products, agricultural technology and agricultural or food-related businesses. Graduate students competed in a separate category. One team from each category received the prize money.

This year’s winners are:

Agricultural Technology and Overall Winner
—Jesse Lafian, studying horticulture.
Reservoir is a solar-powered, automated smart-irrigation system for urban and suburban landscapes that’s intended for use by landscaping companies.

Agricultural or Food-related Business and People’s Choice Award Winner
—Lizzy Isgar, studying food industry marketing and administration.
—Antonio Rodriguez, studying computer science.
Fresco is a phone app that allows restaurant owners and diners to share their wait times at local restaurants and make reservations. It is especially designed for college towns, where large groups of friends or family members struggle to find large tables.

New Food Product
Asian Sausage with Rice and Vegetables
—Britta Thinguldstad, studying animal science.
—Rachel Detweiler, studying animal science.
—Haley Gilleland, studying animal science.
Intended as a full meal inside a sausage, students developed a recipe for a pork sausage, with flavor notes drawn from Asian cuisine, that also contains vegetables and rice.

Graduate students 
Light Variability Chamber
—Jacob Kalina, third-year year student studying agriscience and environmental systems.
—Allison Couch, a master’s degree student studying plant protection and pest management.
—Jonathan Fox, a master’s degree student studying crop and soil sciences.
This team of researchers developed a large light box that uses variable and programmable LED lighting to deliver a set amount of light to turfgrass being evaluated for shade tolerance. The chamber allows researchers to determine the precise amount of light delivered to the trial plot.

The final round of competition included a “Shark Tank”-style presentation from each group followed by five minutes of questions from the judges.

This year’s judges include: Tony Bass, agricultural consultant, Fort Valley, Georgia; Ian Biggs, chief operating officer of the UGA Innovation Gateway startup program, Athens, Georgia; Caroline Hofland, president and chief executive officer of the agricultural equipment firm CBH International, Suwanee, Georgia; Bob Pinckney, entrepreneurship program director at UGA’s Terry College of Business, Athens, Georgia; Octavio Ramirez, head of the CAES Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics; and Jose Reyes de Corcuera, associate professor in the CAES Department of Food Science and Technology.

Donors Caroline Hofland and Keith Kelly, of Kelly Products, a national agrichemical company based in Covington, Georgia, provided the prize money.

For more information at the FABricate contest, see