IGNTE student team wins top prize at Auburn University’s Tiger Cage pitch competition

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The Auburn University student startup team IGNTE won the university’s 2022 Tiger Cage business pitch competition March 25, earning $25,000 in startup capital.

Led by Jacob Cordero, business administration, and Emmett Deen, computer science, IGNTE is a platform that gives organizations a means of showing their sponsor’s ads on Twitch.

“One of the greatest struggles with our startup was taking the idea and refining it to a real-world application,” said Cordero. “Tiger Cage has helped us immensely with that process, as well as prepare us in our journey to obtain funding.”

Presented by Auburn’s Harbert College of Business, the final four teams, comprised of students from the Harbert College, the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, the College of Agriculture and the College of Liberal Arts, were given 10 minutes to pitch their ideas and 15 minutes for a question-and-answer session. Teams were questioned by judges on financials, market shares, product availability, etc.

“While IGNTE was judged as the top team in the competition, every team that competed from the very beginning was outstanding. Narrowing the field from the initial 18 teams to eight, and then to the final four was a difficult task,” said one of the judges, Ralph Runge, RSquare Consulting. “Finding separation between the top four teams today was almost impossible. They were all that good. It is our hope that all teams will continue their business planning processes and commercialization efforts.”

To support their business plans, the 2022 Tiger Cage competition provided startup capital to all teams that placed in the final four, with two additional special awards being provided as well.

Second place and $12,000 in startup capital went to The Best Roping Dummy led by Will Jordan, agricultural communications. The Best Roping Dummy is an autonomous team roping training system that reduces the need for live cattle and improves practice capabilities.

“Participating in the Tiger Cage has been an incredible and rewarding experience,” said Jordan. “I have always been an entrepreneur, yet this competition has pushed me to hone my business and pitching skills. I would encourage anyone with an idea to give this program a shot; the work is worth the reward.”

A tie for third place, and splitting $15,000, went to Toft by 2153 and Feature Finder.

Toft by 2153—led by Jesse Stewart, software engineering, studio art; Brooke Hopton-Jones, computer science; and Sydney Pham, software engineering—is a game development studio specializing in next-generation, cross-platform, multiplayer games.

“The Tiger Cage competition has helped me refine the way I think about business models and market strategies,” Stewart said. “Not only that, but the process has made me significantly better at identifying a truly useful product and crafting a powerful story to help the audience understand it.”

Feature Finder—led by Zane Barbao, management and entrepreneurship, and Luke Matthews, professional flight—is a social music platform designed to revolutionize the entire music industry.

“If you want a way to take your life to the next level and drastically formulate your business, compete in the Tiger Cage Competition,” said Barbao. “I've not only learned how to professionally form a business and present it to investors, but I’ve also made invaluable connections with some outstanding people who will always inspire me to give back. You guys know who you are. It's been an absolute pleasure.”

Two special awards also were presented. The Best Roping Dummy was the recipient of the Thomas Walter Center for Technology Management special award in the amount of $4,000 that will be used for hardware prototyping. IGNTE was the recipient of the Burr & Forman legal services in-kind award in the amount of $5,000.

Final-round judges were Dabsey Maxwell, CFO and chief operations officer, Progress Bank; Teresa Vick, senior vice president, Regions; Ralph Runge, RSquare Consulting Inc.; Mark Mettelman, co-founder, Triad Advisors; Matt Kemph, In-Q-Tel; Tim Denison, president, GDI LLC; Ben Finley, founder, The Finley Group; Dennis Weese, chairperson, West Point Optical Group; Mark Esposito, president, Esposito Global; Richard Sesek, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering; and Dan O’Leary, Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.

Opening the finals was Mark Forchette ’81 marketing, the president and CEO of Delphinus Medical Technologies. As a member of the Harbert College of Business advisory council, Mark was the original driving force behind the creation of the Tiger Cage pitch competition, which has now completed its eighth year.  

In fact, Tiger Cage came into being based on Mark’s own entrepreneurial experiences and a strong belief that Auburn must continually put in place special initiatives that will prepare its graduates for the entrepreneurial world they will face.

“Tiger Cage was a concept I floated in the Deans Advisory Council meeting in 2014 because I recognized through my Silicon Valley start-up experience that the skills you need as an entrepreneur are unique and require intense development,” said Forchette. “I felt it was essential to intensify our training for students on best-in-class entrepreneurial processes so they would be ready for the world they would compete in after graduation.” 

“After witnessing today’s competition, it is clear that Lou Bifano, Harbert College director of entrepreneurship, and his team of seasoned entrepreneurs-in-residence have seized my initial concept and advanced it full throttle. Tiger Cage is now an essential part of Auburn’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and is producing outstanding entrepreneurs with a unique Auburn authenticity and flavor.”

“Looking back on the eight years of Tiger Cage, I am very proud of the fact that the competition has held true to the beliefs that Mark grounded us in at the beginning,” said Bifano. “We remain steadfast in achieving his goal of having a multi-faceted entrepreneurship approach that enhances our students’ skills in starting a new business venture, bringing forward a new project for approval in an existing company, developing students’ written and verbal communications skills, improving their ability to work in cross-discipline teams and helping them build and grow their professional networks.”

Information about the next year’s Tiger Cage business pitch competition, as well as the array of services provided by Auburn’s New Venture Accelerator, is available by contacting Bifano at loubifano@auburn.edu.

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