Trent Finley had already wowed one panel of judges with his business pitch for “What R My Chances?,” a website he and his partners are developing that will use an algorithm to help dental school applicants handicap their odds of getting into certain schools. That netted him $5,000 at Columbia College’s ’Trep Week Student Business Pitch Competition in April.
Last week, delivering an updated pitch in a regional competition, he did the same thing.
Finley, a 2016 Columbia College graduate, won the top prize at the Bringing Up Business: Mid-Missouri Innovation Week pitch competition Oct. 10 at the Brouder Science Center’s Bixby Lecture Hall, the same venue at which he won the college-wide competition in the spring. Fellow 2016 graduate Brandyn Chambers won the “Audience Choice” vote for “Flydra Creative,” the digital animation studio he helped found. Chambers and Flydra won second prize and “Audience Choice” at the ’Trep Week competition in April.
“Winning those pitches improved my confidence levels big-time as far as public speaking goes,” Finley says. “It kind of validated the value of the business, which was really nice. If I was able to win and beat some pretty good start-ups already, I think I’ve got a lot of potential to keep going and keep placing in these pitch competitions.”
Finley, who is in his first year of dental school at Missouri-Kansas City, said both competitions have contributed crucial seed money to his business. He’s targeting an early spring launch for WhatRMyChances.com, which will allow aspiring dental school students to input their academic and work experience data into the site and see their chances at being accepted into different programs.
He plans to present again to Digital Sandbox KC, an organization that provides grants to start-ups, within the next six months.
Finley didn’t have much business acumen before he got involved with Columbia College’s Steven and Barbara Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship and its mentorship program. Now, he’s finding his way.
“They made me start thinking about things I never thought about,” Finley said. “Really, it was that input that helped me work out the kinks of an idea and polish it to make it feasible to become a business. I was also able to develop business relationships and really start networking and meeting people that are valuable in helping my business grow.”
Chambers’ venture has also been in the process of astronomical growth in the six months between pitch competitions. Flydra is creating an animated series called “The Weeklings” that features each day of the week as a character — “Friday is the coolest guy ever. Monday is kind of awkward and no one really likes her,” Chambers says — along with characters representing holidays from a number of different cultures.
A Kickstarter page to help fund the series met its $20,000 goal in only six days.
“We wanted to combat the lack of diverse representation in today’s media, by introducing audiences to and celebrating cultures they may not have seen before,” Chambers says. “We had people donate from Sweden, from Brazil, all these other places that we don’t know people in, and they wanted to help out with this project.”
Chambers said Flydra has been updating its technology to expand on its short-film offerings — some of which have been used at Columbia College — and make television-quality animation products that it hopes to sell to internet streaming services. The studio showcased one of its shorts, “I Bee-Lieve You Can Fly,” at the world-renowned San Diego Comic-Con in July.
The work speaks for itself. Chambers has been doing his share of speaking on its behalf as well.
“It definitely brings you that confidence to step outside of your box, step outside of your limits to be able to contact people you might not have contacted before, to talk to people,” Chambers says. “We have mentors at the Fishman Center that are always 100-percent behind you and always want to see you succeed. It motivates you to do better.”