Brea Givens, a senior managerial finance major from Austin, Texas, is the overall winner of the 17th Annual Gillespie Business Plan Competition at the University of Mississippi for her app, Froomie, that helps students find roommates and off-campus housing. Submitted photo
When Brea Givens transferred to the University of Mississippi as a junior in 2019, she had a difficult time finding a compatible roommate, so she began developing her own app to streamline the process and deliver better results.
That led to Froomie, which provides roommate and housing solutions for college students, and which just won first place in the university’s 17th annual Gillespie Business Plan Competition. Givens, the founder and CEO, will receive $10,000 toward her LLC and a year of complimentary office space, valued at $3,600, at the Innovation Hub at Insight Park.
She also won the Lynn and Ron Samuels Student Entrepreneur Award, which includes an additional $5,000.
A senior finance major from Austin, Texas, Givens was unable to find a suitable roommate when she transferred to Ole Miss from Austin Community College and had to resort to random placement. This experience exposed her to the lack of resources available to students in finding roommates and off-campus housing.
“It is great to see Brea Givens’s idea for Froomie grow into an LLC; she applied the judges’ feedback from last year,” said Clay Dibrell, co-director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “Through her hard work and those who have worked with her, she is looking to launch Froomie in the near future.”
Givens won the sixth Mid-South Business Model Competition in November 2020 and has worked to grow the company since then.
“Since the BMC, I’ve been focusing on finalizing Froomie’s initial mobile platform features by working with a UI/UX designer as well as speaking with potential customers and users,” Givens said. “It’s great knowing that I have support from the school and its alumni.
“The CIE has played a huge part in helping me get to where I am today, and I could not have done it without their continued support and mentorship.”
Participation increased by 30% over last year’s Gillespie competition, said Tong Meng, director of programs in the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which sponsors both competitions.
“We had teams from diverse backgrounds, freshmen to graduate students, teams with just an idea to those who were post-revenue, IMC majors to biomedical engineering majors,” Meng said. “We are thrilled that students recognize and trust the CIE and its programming as key resources, where they can receive support with their entrepreneurial pursuit.”
From 27 pitches, six business ideas were chosen to present to a panel of seven judges in the final round.
The final round judges included: Abb Payne, The Payne Companies’ founder and CEO; Stephen Richards, founder of Richard’s Bespoke; William Yates, CEO of Yates Construction; Emmet Seibels, co-founder and former president of Verus Healthcare; Liza Cirlot Looser, CEO of The Cirlot Agency; Jan Farrington, former executive director of Medical Support and Development Organization Inc.; and Lawrence Farrington, a member of the board of directors for mTrade Inc. and the UM Foundation.
Placing second in the competition was SageApp, a platform designed to improve online learning for both students and teachers, founded by Austin Wallace, of Southaven, and Michael Valencia, of Nashville, Tennessee, both juniors majoring in chemistry. They received $5,000 toward their LLC.
Three additional awards, each worth $5,000, were given from donations to support the CIE, with Givens winning the Lynn and Ron Samuels Student Entrepreneur Award.
Senior biomedical engineering majors Tristan Daily, of Saltillo; Noah McKone, of Bogue Chitto; Jake Smith, of Hernando; and Owen Barry, of Madison, received the Thomas W. Colbert-Community Bank Innovation Award for Rolling Thunder, a concept to improve rehabilitation and comfort for people using wheelchairs. This award recognizes an outstanding venture driven by innovation in a product/process/service or technological change development.
HoopAtlanta received the Stephen E. Rowell Entrepreneur Award for exemplifying the entrepreneurial spirit through a venture driven by innovation. Jordan Wyton, a senior multidisciplinary studies major from Grayson, Georgia, started this company to host organized pickup basketball games for fun, fast-paced sessions with no long-term commitment; he has already expanded to Charlotte, North Carolina, and Nashville.
“We are grateful for our sponsors and their support that allows us to offer monetary prizes to assist the launch of these student-led businesses,” said Ken Cyree, dean of the UM School of Business Administration. “It is encouraging to note the adaptability and resiliency of our students to adjust in these interesting times, and I believe the future of these Ole Miss entrepreneurs is bright.”
By Ali Mae Walsh