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This year’s Utah Entrepreneur Challenge saw a battle between Utah’s best college entrepreneurs, who were competing to win more than $100,000 in prizes. The UEC is the culmination of a statewide competition process that helps student entrepreneurs refine their ideas, formulate a business model and begin implementing their businesses.
The UEC is hosted by the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah. More than 200 teams competed for the prize money this year with only 20 making it to the final round. Here, we spotlight a few of those finalists who are sure to begin making waves with their new tech ventures.
The grand prize winner—coming away with $40,000 in prize money—was tech company SimpleCitizen, which aims to streamline the process for applying for a green card.
SimpleCitizen’s story started when co-founder Sam Stoddard married EunJoo Yoon, who was from South Korea, although she had lived in the United States for seven years and had graduated from East High. Shortly after their marriage, they realized it was time for Yoon to get a green card.
When applying for a green card, there are basically two options: Do it alone and spend hours doing complicated paperwork or hire a lawyer, pay lots of money, and still do plenty of paperwork. Stoddard was halfway through his master’s degree and figured he was familiar enough with government forms that he could do it on his own.
Two months into the frustration of research, filling out forms and endless phone calls, he gave up and turned to the internet for help. He believed that if TurboTax can pile mountains of tax information into one simple program, surely there would be something similar for green card applications.
What the internet did have was hundreds of sites explaining how to file the application correctly and possible immigration attorneys to contact, but there was nothing that really helped move someone like Stoddard and his wife through the process.
It took several months, but the couple was able to finish the applications needed to finally get a green card. But before they turned it in, they wanted to consult with an immigration lawyer to make sure all the bases were covered. Five hundred dollars and six months of research later, they filed the paperwork.
Stoddard realized there had to be a better way. This summer will see the launch of SimpleCitizen, a company that will streamline the green card applications and other basic immigration forms.
“The goal of SimpleCitizen is to be a trusted resource for people who are trying to navigate the immigration process,” says Stoddard. “Eventually we will expand to other countries that have immigration issues as well. This product will have application for people relocating from India to the UK and China to Canada.”
Participating in—and winning—the UEC was a huge step, enabling the SimpleCitizen team to finalize the development of their website before public launch.
“Being a part of UEC was a fantastic opportunity and learning experience,” says Stoddard. “Surrounding yourself with incredibly passionate and smart people is the best part of being an entrepreneur. [Co-founder] Brady Stoddard and I have felt very lucky...and the success and progress we have made is a direct result of the strong network of entrepreneurs and mentors in Utah.”
KiLife Tech took home a myriad of awards at the UEC, including Best Presentation, Best Tabling, Best Speed Pitch, Best Video and Best Product, just to name a few. What made this company so popular at the Utah Entrepreneur Challenge?
KiLife makes the Kiband, a simple piece of technology that promises to solve one of the more terrifying aspects of parenthood. Essentially, it’s a Bluetooth tag you give your kids, and when they get too far away from you, it sends an alert to the phone.
Spencer Behrend is the CEO of KiLife and was the inspiration behind the Kiband, but he gives credit for the invention to his son Kimball.
One Fourth of July several years ago, Kimball disappeared in the crowd. Behrend says it happened in just an instant—he looked away and his kid
was gone. Like any parent would, he and his wife went into panic mode, scrambling to find their son. Luckily, there was a happy ending to this story—they found Kimball and everyone made it home safely. Losing his son in a crowd caused Behrend to look for solutions without having to
be one of those parents who leashes their kid.
Nothing he searched for offered true peace of mind. So instead of trying to find something to buy, he decided to invent something.
“What I want to give is peace of mind to parents, yet without seeming like we are inventing a lazy kind of technology,” says Behrend. “Our passion is about giving others meaningful tech and implementing it into our lives.”