Two WashU Undergrads Make Final Eight at SXSW Student Startup Madness

By February 13, 2015

Washington University entrepreneurs Blake Margrraff and Jolijt Tamanaha


St. Louis startups are fueling the fast growing reputation of St. Louis as a hub for Midwestern startup growth. Yes, there are other Midwestern cities doing the same, but at the Student Startup Madness Competition at SXSW this year, TWO Washington University undergrads have made it into the Final Eight with their startups.

Blake Marggraff is the founder of BetaVersity, which received an Arch Grant, and Jolijt Tamanaha is the CEO of Champio, which has just been accepted into the Prosper Accelerator and was a Top 3 Finalist at Startup Voodoo’s ‘Most Promising’ in 2014.

The Entrepreneurial Eight teams have been chosen for the finals of the Student Startup Madness (SSM) tournament, an official partner program of South By Southwest (SXSW) Interactive. These elite college student startups will be in Austin, Texas, on March 16 to pitch before a judging panel of successful entrepreneurs and investors from Google, Samsung, Dell and a Silicon Valley venture capital firm – all who can help them transform their ideas into business success.

The SSM event will be held at SXSW’s Startup Village main venue in the downtown Hilton Austin. The winning team will take home a prize package of software and services (valued at over $2,000) and bragging rights as the best student startup in America.

Student Startup Madness (SSM) is the only nationwide collegiate tournament focused on digital media startups. It affords college student startups the opportunity to compete against fellow student entrepreneurs, grab the attention of potential investors and supporters, and build an elite professional network. At the SSM finals at SXSW, eight elite college student startups will pitch their business to well-known investors and entrepreneurs who can help them transform their idea into success.

The 2014-15 SSM Entrepreneurial Eight Finalists (in alphabetical order)

· BetaVersity from Washington University in St. Louis
· Boldr from University of Michigan
· Champio from Washington University in St. Louis
· Loco Labs from Bucknell University
· Reliefwatch from University of Chicago
· Spray N’ Pray Studios from Georgia State University
· Tech Twurl from Michigan State University
· Yorango from Cornell University

OFFICIAL ALTERNATE (and special spotlight military veteran startup)

· ChooseVets from University of Washington, Tacoma

“It’s going to be a hard to pick a winner from this group,” says Sean Branagan, creator of the SSM program. “But that’s not my problem, that’s why we have a great judging panel.”

The 2014-15 SSM Judges (in alphabetical order)

· Kristina Hahn, Head of Consumer Packaged Goods, Google
· Brendon Kim, Managing Director, Strategic Investments Group, Samsung Open Innovation Center
· Heather Dawn Miller, Co-Founder, August | Endeavor (Miller Inspiration)
· Anis Uzzaman, Co-Founder & CEO, Fenox Venture Capital

EMCEE (and tie-breaking judge)

· Tim Dickson, Executive Director, CIO, Emerging Technologies and User Experience, Dell

“This great panel continues our tradition of getting rising stars in the startup community,” Branagan adds. Past panelists included co-founder of Square (Jim McKelvey), managing director of TechStars (Nicole Glaros), first investor in Pinterest (Brian Cohen), director of engineering at Google and then head of engineering at SnapChat (Peter Magnusson), leader in the B-Corporation movement (Elisa Miller-Out) and several others.

“It’s impressive that these talented professionals take time from their busy schedules at South By to listen to college students pitch their ventures,” Branagan continues. “It says a lot about them as people and a lot about the quality of ventures coming off America’s college campuses these days.”

SSM Tournament Format

Each round of the nationwide tournament builds momentum, awareness and social media buzz, drawing attention to colleges and universities as sources for innovation, entrepreneurship and talent while showcasing university entrepreneurship and encouraging college students to start businesses.

More than 150 teams applied for the Student Startup Madness tournament online between August and the end of November 2014. The first two rounds of the SSM tournament are held online, with judging conducted via, a platform used by angel investors around the world.

This year’s SSM teams came from more than 50 different colleges and universities across the country – all working on digital products and services in varied industries, including Consumer Services, Financial Services, Gaming & Entertainment, Medical Devices, Security, Sports, and Travel.

SSM is promoted and supported by anchor universities in regions across the country, as well as by corporate sponsors who believe in the power of American entrepreneurship and innovation on our college campuses.

About the finalists

BetaVersity: The company offers BetaBox, a maker lab in a shipping container; and Atlas, a job-matching tool targeted at engineers, for 25+ university and corporate clients.

Boldr: An effective promotion platform for retail businesses that quantifies ROI for their online marketing through metrics on foot traffic.

Champio: An enterprise system that helps companies market better on social media by generating relevant and unique content from employees, which increases follower engagement.

Loco Labs: A mobile application on iOS for local communities to anonymously post relevant information in their areas. Share information, meet new people, have fun. Loco.

Reliefwatch: A platform for organizations in the developing world to track inventory through basic mobile phones.

Spray N’ Pray Studios: A game development company that believes narrative and gameplay function as one, not as two pieces is a complex puzzle. “Ready, Fire, Aim!”

Tech Twurl: A convenient and reliable solution to buy, sell, trade, and repair your devices. Using our website and mobile app you will always be protected.

Yorango: An end-to-end solution for tenants and landlords integrating management SaaS with easy-to-navigate listings.


ChooseVets: An online marketplace that connects military veterans who provide services, trades and labor with customers who need to get stuff done. \

About Student Startup Madness

The Student Startup Madness concept was developed by Sean Branagan, director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University, in conjunction with SXSW. Student Startup Madness, along with its sponsors and host universities, believes in American entrepreneurship and on-campus startups—and wants to help young student entrepreneurs succeed and become a part of the SXSW experience.

Student Startup Madness debuted in 2012 at SXSW Interactive with a launch event and kick-off pitchfest. In 2013 and 2014, SSM became a SXSW Partner Program and was invited into the main venue of SXSW Startup Village. For more on Student Startup Madness, or follow us on Twitter: @StartupMad.