The Proving Ground – Shark Tank Finale

‘Shark Tank’ finale for The Proving Ground set for March 29

The Proving Ground, is USC’s signature entrepreneurial competition. The community is invited to cheer students and alumni of the University of South Carolina as they compete for startup prizes and support on Thursday (March 29).

Six competitors will go head-to-head in the finale, which is free and open to the public. It starts at 6 p.m. in the W.W. Hootie Johnson Performance Hall at the Darla Moore School of Business.

Finalists were selected from a field of 40 business plan submissions by a team of seasoned entrepreneurs and business faculty members.

“The first-round of judging was very competitive,” says Dean Kress, associate director of the Moore School’s Faber Entrepreneurship Center. “We have very intriguing concepts and there was a lot of discussion between the competition judges. The audience for the finale will see some very cool business ideas.”

Capturing the fast-paced pitch format of “Shark Tank,” The Proving Ground finale features competitors and judges on the stage together. The format features two finalists who compete for the winning spot in one of three categories.

Alex Smolen, founder of VuePeer, a peer-to-peer travel rentals portal, and a $20,000 winner in the 2015 Proving Ground competition pitches his concept to the judges. 

The $17,500 Maxient Innovation Prize goes to the competitor with the most innovative business concept that addresses an existing need or problem. This category is open to undergraduate students only. The finalists:

  • Chris McKinney, senior computer science major, and Hanna Lamm, senior management science major, combined their business and engineering backgrounds to come up with “Blue Chip AI.” “Blue Chip AI,” offers Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions to businesses that manage large stores of data such as call centers and collection agencies. The generated strategies will optimize efficiency and cut costs by taking over traditionally manual processes.
  • Jason Thomas, senior finance student, will pitch his concept for “Sow Inc.” “Sow Inc.,” is a business entity that facilitates the delivery of fresh farm-to-table products. The interactive platform connects producers and customers within one interactive platform to promote timely, high-quality food deliveries. 

The $17,500 Avenir Discovery Prize is awarded to the most innovative business concept that addresses an existing need or problem. This category is open to undergraduates, graduate students and alumni from the last five years. The finalists:

  • Matthew Testa is a mechanical engineering graduate student. “Kooler Wheels,” is a wheel system that allows a single person to transport the popular and often heavy Yeti brand Tundra coolers. The detachable stainless steel and nylon wheels allow coolers to be rolled along the ground rather than carried.
  • Tina Abbasi and Drew Ferguson are both third-year law students and the first law students to make it to the finals of The Proving Ground. “Navibās,” is a platform that aims to increase ease of access to emergency services at a densely-crowded event like a music festival. The platform aims to help individuals reach a medical tent or security personnel site even with minimal cellular service. 

The $5,000 SCRA Technology Ventures Fan Favorite Prize is chosen by The Proving Ground audience at the final competition. Finalists in this category were the two highest scoring business plans from the other categories that did not make the finals. The finalists:

  • Zachary Carlton graduated from the university in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. “Amoya-Agri,” is an existing pre-revenue agribusiness dedicated to the sustainable production of cash crops in East Africa. The company’s mission is to promote food security and abundance by supporting the small and mid-sized commercial farmer.
  • Mason Eckley is a senior computer science student. “Mudita U,” is a NCAA stat-tracking app that allows users to follow individual athletes using data feeds, aggregate viewing and customizable push notifications. Mudita U transforms the NCAA databases into a user-friendly mobile app that resembles popular social networking sites.

Each team has five minutes to pitch their ideas, followed by questions from the judges. The judges for this year’s final competition will be Aaron and Candice Hark, founders and owners of Maxient, and Jill Sorensen, director of SC Launch, a program of the South Carolina Research Authority (SCRA).

Winning concepts will be chosen based on six criteria: problem, market, investment potential, distinctive competence, financial understanding and the entrepreneur’s viability.

“Our goal is to promote innovation and cultivate entrepreneurs. Winners have gone on to successfully bring their business ventures to market,” says Kress.

Dean H. Kress, Director
Faber Entrepreneurship Center


Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month Calendar of Events

Since 1987, Women’s History Month has been observed in the United States every March. Below are some excellent opportunities during this month to celebrate women and their contribution,  past and present.    

If you are interested to learn more about women’s history issues throughout the month, the College of Nursing will have some great discussions.  Please follow them on Facebook or Twitter.   In addition, Leadership and Service Center has a full calendar of events for students and professionals.   

Dedicated to helping children with speech impediments, Martha Cunningham Monteith was the first trained speech therapist employed by the state’s public school system. Her papers are housed in University Libraries’ South Carolina Political Collections and were recently brought online by Digital Collections

 South Carolina Political Collections has a small exhibit going up in the Brittain Gallery in the Hollings Library (right in front of the reading room) to celebrate Harriet H. Keyserling’s remarkable political career. It highlights some of her greatest achievements and includes selections from her archival collection. The exhibit will be up through April. For more information see: .  If you don’t know much about Keyserling, she is a true inspiration for women in South Carolina. This is a MUST SEE!

Click here for a Full calendar of events


Would you like a research consultation? Book – A – Librarian

When you make your request please allow 1 business days for a response, at which time an appointment will be scheduled. Most consultations will take place Monday through Friday between 9am-5pm and typically last 30 to 60 minutes. Evening appointments may be arranged based on librarian availability. 

Caution: If you have something due in a day or less, you should come to the Reference desk at Thomas Cooper or contact us through Ask A Librarian.

Examples of what consultations can help with:

  • selecting the best resources for your research area/assignment
  • accessing and navigating electronic resources
  • developing search strategies
  • discovering and locating primary source materials
  • searching the web for relevant and reliable information
  • Capstone class research/ Senior seminar projects

Need Help Accessing Resources Off Campus or While Abroad?

DMSB faculty and students abroad may experience problems accessing our databases and other resources, particularly in certain countries. Below are links to resources that may help solve your technical issues.

If you continue to have problems, email the Business Library or call 803.777.6032.


Want to read the WSJ online for free?

How to read the WSJ for free online

Step 1. Start at the Business Library website
Step 2. Select database FACTIVA under the Most Popular – Top Sources                           (you will need to sign on through the proxy using your USC username and password)
Step 3. Select News Pages along the top menu bar.

You have free access to the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Atlanta Journal – Constitution, Tampa Bay Times, Barron’s and Forbes.

Under each title you can select the date and section you would like to read. Some articles allow you the option to download or have it read to you. After selecting an article; the grey menu bar gives you options to email, print, save, download or open in Adobe.

Have a great time searching!

Tips for your library materials search

Welcome back students and faculty!

Here are a few tips for finding library materials as you dig into your coursework:

The Business Library’s physical resources are now kept at the Thomas Cooper Library and the Annex, but finding them has not changed. Use the Classic Search to start searching for print and e-books, and remember, you can still limit by Columbia Business.

The Annex is the library’s offsite storage facility. Materials at the Annex may still be checked out with your Carolina Card. Find out more here.

The majority of the business collection is online, and new e-books are being added all the time. Get the details about e-books at USC Columbia here.

USC Magellan Scholar publishes website on international experience

Joy Gannaway, a USC Magellan Scholar sponsored by International Business professor Lite Nartey, spent this past summer in immersive study in the African country of Mauritius. Visit her website–Tolerant Mauritius–to discover more about her research and experience. Scroll past the video for links to her blog and research findings. Incredible work, Joy!

DMSB students: if you have documented your travels abroad and work experience, send us the links so we can promote you.