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Two IU Student Founded Companies Share $200,000
Updated April 23, 2015 7:51 AM | Filed under: Education
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A rendering of the first Merchant's Garden location. Photo by Narcis Tudor Architects
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Zoe Need, Chaz J. Shelton and Michael B. Kulov of Merchant's Garden.
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Jason TenBarge and Kevin Casimer of FundSponge.

(BLOOMINGTON) - Four Indiana University students are members of two companies sharing $200,000 for their efforts to transform online fundraising and urban food access as the winners of IU Bloomington's 2015 BEST competition.

The largest investment competition in the world offered by a university to its students, BEST -- Building Entrepreneurs in Software and Technology -- recognizes student-led companies focused on Internet and software technology.

The IU Bloomington School of Informatics and Computing and the Kelley School of Business launched the competition four years ago with financial support from company leaders who are IU alumni, and who receive a stake in the company in exchange for their investment.

The winners of this year's competition are FundSponge, a company that helps small nonprofit organizations raise money as people shop online, and Merchant's Garden, a model for bringing environmentally friendly, out-of-season produce to restaurants, groceries and homes in urban environments. Each company will receive $100,000.

"It has been great to see the BEST competition contribute to the culture of entrepreneurship at IU Bloomington and become part of the greater innovation infrastructure," said Bobby Schnabel, dean of the IU School of Informatics and Computing. "The quality of the teams and concepts in this year's finals set a new standard."

BEST co-founder Scott Dorsey, the former chair and CEO of ExactTarget who led this year's BEST competition, added: "Our judges were impressed with the caliber of the student entrepreneurs and their passion for making the world a better place. It's exciting to see the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation continue to accelerate at IU."

IU members of FundSponge are Jason TenBarge, a graduate student in the IU Maurer School of Law who serves as the company's CEO, and Kevin Casimer, also a graduate student in the IU Maurer School of Law, who serves as chief operating officer.

The company works by providing a platform for websites to link to major retailers such as Amazon.com or Macy's. A nonprofit organization, student group or other cause can then share this page with supporters. Every time a purchase is made at the retailer's site through one of the links, a portion of the sale will go to the selected cause. The site also provides news and updates about user's favorite causes.

"Unlike traditional fundraisers, which often require lots of time and manpower, FundSponge helps groups of any size raise money by simply asking supporters to take a few extra seconds to support them when they shop online," TenBarge said. "We also empower supporters. By using the site to buy textbooks, hotel rooms or other necessities, people can make a meaningful financial gift to their favorite cause without ever writing a check. Using FundSponge to support a cause is like supporting a cause on Facebook, except with FundSponge you can do more than just show your support, you can give it."

IU members of Merchant's Garden are founder Chaz J. Shelton, a Master of Business Administration student in entrepreneurship and finance at the Kelley School of Business, who serves as CEO; and Michael B. Kulov, a Master of Business Administration student in finance at the Kelley School of Business, who serves as interim director of finance. The company's model employs aquaponics -- a combination of aquaculture, or farming fish, and hydroponics, a completely water-based agriculture -- in a computer-controlled greenhouse environment.

Merchant's Garden, which will market both to businesses and consumers, saves significant resource and distribution costs through housing the whole supply chain: growing, harvesting and producing locally grown food.

"We want to change the way the world accesses healthy food," Shelton said. "Bringing a computer-controlled aquaponics greenhouse into urban markets, such as our first market in the city of Tucson, Ariz., will change the way the city eats."

Also members of Merchant's garden are Zoe Need, a student at Bloomington North High School who serves as a sustainability intern; Brunno Cerozi, vice president of agriculture, and Bill J. Shriver, vice president of operations.

An additional member of FundSponge is Eleanor TenBarge, chief creative officer and Web applications designer.

The BEST competition was founded by IU alumni Mary Delaney, CEO of Luceo Solutions LLC (B.S., marketing, 1986); Dorsey (B.S., business, 1989); Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder (B.A., political science, 1989); and Schnabel. The total number of investors in the competition has grown from 10 in the first year to 25 this year, including the IU Research and Technology Corp.



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