Do you “chia?”

Judges at the 15th annual Ballard Morton New Venture Competition think you might.  They awarded first prize and $13,000 to a new business that wants to make chia seeds Kentucky’s newest—and potentially biggest—cash crop.

“We’re not talking about ‘chia pets’ here,” Zack Pennington, president of Kentucky Chia, assured the judges. “It’s the same plant but a very different concept.”

Chia seeds, according to the four UofL Entrepreneurship MBA students who created the new company, are an ancient superfood poised to be the next generation breakthrough in nutrition. They’re working with University of Kentucky scientists to develop and market the first ever chia seeds grown in the northern hemisphere.  Until now, the plants thrived only in the southern hemisphere, increasing costs and limiting supply.  Kentucky Chia’s seeds could be grown coast to coast, all the way into Canada, surpassing farmers’ per-acre income for more traditional crops by a wide margin.

“Chia seeds have the highest concentration of omega-3 of any plant source,” said Pennington.  “The health benefits are unsurpassed.  This is a tremendous opportunity for American farmers, consumers and investors.”

The group’s passion and presentation convinced judges the concept was worthy of further development. They’re seeking $2.2 million in start-up investment money to launch the company.  The team includes Joanna Cruz, Keith Starling and Scott Serdoz.

“They look like a team, talk like a team and present like a team,” said Ed Nasief, senior vice president of investment for UBS Financial Services.  With 15 years experience judging business plan competitions, Nasief came prepared to be skeptical.  “Their concept appears sound and they make a great case for it.”

In addition to the cash award, first place also included the Mountjoy Chilton Medley Tax Service award, a package of tax services created to assist new companies in managing their tax preparations.

Elevate Sportswear, a new concept for treating sports injuries and reducing recovery times using premium graduated compression and temperature technology, earned the competition’s second place honors and $9,000.   The team includes Entrepreneurship MBA students Jake Huber, Jennifer Crawley, Josh Libs and Geoff Speicher.  The company’s enhanced body wraps and sleeves would treat damaged calves, arms and knees to help athletes “elevate their game and make the most of their time and their life.”

“It’s a $6.5 billion market,” said Huber.  “We can brand a new niche.” The company is seeking $1.5 million to continue development of the technology and bring the products to market.

Third place and $7,000 were awarded to Lerelen Interactive, a company seeking to revolutionize parents’ pursuit of apps suitable for use by children with mobile devices and computers.  The company proposes to create a subscription-based service offering pre-screened, age-appropriate materials without advertising content.

“Three million families have smartphones and children six or younger,” said company CMO Bryan Casey.  “They need a safe environment where children can explore and learn with apps that are approved for their use.  We’ll provide that, along with guidelines for developers who want to get their products into the marketplace.”

The company also includes Kartik Kamat, Jovan Rebolledo-Mendez and Mike Tyree.  They’re seeking $1.1 million to develop their concept for the web.

The competition was open only to concepts created by UofL Forcht Center for Entrepreneurship MBA students. A company created for last year’s competition—TNG Pharmaceuticals—went on to be named global champions in the richest and most prestigious business plan competitions in the world.

“This year we saw a truly diverse group of concepts, each bringing a lot of potential to the table,” said entrepreneur and consultant Joel Adams, another judge.  “It’s clear this program (the Forcht Center’s Entrepreneurship MBA) has raised the bar for new business concepts.”

The teams were coached by College of Business Professor Van Clouse, Professor Sharon Kerrick and Entrepreneur-in-Residence Suzanne Bergmeister.  The groups will use their winnings to continue development of their concepts as they prepare for the 2012 business plan competition circuit and the opportunity to meet with venture capitalists and angel investors.

Awards presented at the 20111 Ballard Morton New Venture Competition:

  • Best 60-second Fast Pitch:  Kentucky Chia (Joanna Cruz)
  • Best Trade Show:  Elevate Sportswear
  • Best Business Plan Presentation:  Kentucky Chia
  • 1st Place Business Plan:  Kentucky Chia
  • 2nd Place Business Plan:  Elevate Sportswear
  • 3rd Place Business Plan:  Lerelen Interactive
  • Mountjoy Chilton Medley Tax Service Award:  Kentucky Chia
Tagged with →  


University of Louisville
College of Business
Harry Frazier Hall
Louisville, KY 40292
Contact Us - Directory
Main College Number: (502) 852-6440 Fax: (502) 852-7557


The UofL College of Business is separately accredited by AACSB International (The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business). Visit our Accreditation page for details.

University Accreditation:
Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)



facebook twitter