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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

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Notre Dame team wins award at ACC InVenture Prize competition

Last week Notre Dame juniors Brian George and Luke Blazek competed in the ACC InVenture Prize competition for student entrepreneurs at Florida State University. At the competition, the pair took home the “people’s choice award” for their navigation app startup, “Routora.”

George and Blazek, along with Tom Vazhekatt, a junior at the University of Texas, Dallas, co-founded the company in 2022. The app uses artificial intelligence to determine the most efficient route when traveling to multiple locations.

The InVenture Prize competition, with teams representing all 14 ACC schools, began last Monday with a 10-minute virtual question and answer session with judges. On Tuesday, the competitors then made the trip to Florida State where they had dinner with a guest speaker and the other competitors, before practicing for the competition.

After visiting the Florida State entrepreneurship center in the morning and fine tuning their presentation in the afternoon, George and Blazek took the stage at 7 p.m. to present their startup.

Each team gave a two-minute pitch for their company and answered questions from the judges for one minute. The event was televised nationally on PBS.

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George and Blazek presented their startup, "Routora" on live television (photo courtesy of Luke Blazek).

Voting for the people’s choice award took place via text message. Each college team was assigned a two letter code that anyone watching could send to cast their vote via text. For winning the award, George and Blazek will receive a $5,000 grant for their startup.

The pair thanked the Notre Dame community for their support.

“They rallied behind us to help us secure the people’s choice: students, alumni, teachers, everyone,” Blazek said.

George expressed similar sentiments.

“I think that’s just a testament to the love and support of our community,” he said. “[It’s] the reason why we were able to win.”

The team from Georgia Tech University ended up winning first place in the competition, with the University of North Carolina team coming in second. Despite not winning the tournament itself, George and Blazek described the tournament as a very positive experience, not solely because of the grant money they won, but due to the beneficial experience of presenting their idea.

“Being in the spotlight and having to put together your business plan and be scrutinized and argue for why your business is going to be successful in a short amount of time, I think is just a great experience,” Blazek explained. “It forces you to look at the cracks and figure out, what’s the best way to showcase certain items so that the most people can understand it.”

The pair said the feedback from the judges was overall positive, but the company needs to focus on differentiating itself within the large market of the navigation industry.

“We’ll definitely go back to the drawing board and kind of fine tune our presentation,” Blazek said.

Blazek and George said they also enjoyed meeting and competing against entrepreneurs from other schools.

“I think it was also just great to be around people that are also just young, ambitious and hungry,” George said. “It’s definitely motivating to see other people going out creating their businesses.”

Looking forward, Blazek said the company plans to integrate more “data gathering software” into their app and website in order to improve their ad and marketing strategies. They also plan to use the money they have won from the competition to create a partnership with a “gig driver assistance app.”

In the more immediate future, Blazek and George said they are preparing to compete in the McCloskey New Venture Competition at the end of April. The upcoming event is organized by the Notre Dame Idea Center.