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Data analytics platform wins Paladin Pitch

Furman student Spencer Tate, left, and his business partner Nemath Ahmed, were awarded $10K for their business during Paladin Pitch held at McAlister Auditorium on Thursday, April 13, 2023.

Last updated April 13, 2023

By Tina Underwood

In the past three installments of the Paladin Pitch Competition hosted by The Hill Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, winning students have shared ideas to fill what they see as gaps in the marketplace.

Innovations from previous winners run the gamut from tiny homes outfitted to address the needs of people on the autism disorder spectrum, to a creative way to marry campus meal plans with popular take-out purveyors, to last year’s winning venture, an idea to trim waste associated with reeds for musical instruments.

And for this year’s winner, Spencer Tate ’24, co-founder of dotflo, the creative impetus is no different. He and co-founder Nemath Ahmed of Georgia Tech, came away with the inaugural $10,000 Johnny Flynn Paladin Pitch Award. Dotflo is an intuitive data analytics platform that uses artificial intelligence to leverage existing data at mid-size companies for decision-making without having to invest in pricey data science teams.

Using a pizza chain business as an example, the team posed a common problem faced by businesses – a glut of data, and no affordable way to analyze it.

“With our platform, companies can use our AI-powered tools that produce insights based on the data they give us and the problem they’re trying to solve,” Tate said. “And they don’t have to hire a specialized team of data analysts to accomplish that.”

The entrepreneurial duo tag teamed the presentation, decked out in sharp blue suits and Nike sneakers. No rookies to the pitch scene, the two just came off a pitch competition at Georgia Tech where they made the final round in a field of 40. And in the second Paladin Pitch showdown, Tate was also a finalist for his valet trash service, University Trash and Dash.

They brought it all – branding, competitive outlook and growth opportunities for dotflo. Well past the ideation stage, the dotflo founders said they wrapped their functional minimum-viable product and have lined up their first beta user to test the concept – complete with data dashboards and predictive modeling.

Still, dotflo faced stiff competition from the other finalists culled from a total of nearly 50 ventures.

Black man in suit on stage, Ivan Aagyaakwah.

Ivan Aagyaakwah ’25

Ivan Aagyaakwah ’25, founder of College Coach, a sports enthusiast, economics major and member of the Furman men’s soccer team, presented a way to connect college and professional athletes with aspiring players through individualized coaching. His goal is to increase homegrown soccer talent through one-on-one coaching and mentorship.

Growing up in London, Aagyaakwah never knew how difficult it was for young people to succeed in their sport until he came to the states.

“Children here just don’t have the same resources and mentorship unless they have the underlying talent from a young age,” he said. His venture seeks to reduce soccer dropout rates and forge meaningful relationships among players, colleges, coaches, teams and parents.

white man at podium. Patrick Flagler '23.

Patrick Flagler ’23

Sustainability science major Patrick Flagler ’23, founder of BioLink, described a concept that encourages eco-friendly practices on college campuses and beyond through partnerships with corporations. He walked Paladin Pitch attendees through an example whereby a company can purchase supplies and the use of acreage on a college campus to build a pollinator garden that would provide habitat for bees and butterflies. The company improves its sustainability profile for its customers while the college supports greater biodiversity.

“Businesses need a way to tell their customers they’re sustainable,” Flagler said. BioLink would assess a fee for making the project happen. Flagler won the Crowd Favorite award.

white woman at podium. Aubrey Zoodsma '24.

Aubrey Zoodsma ’24

Never doubt Aubrey Zoodsma’s commitment to sparkle. Co-founder of Astrea, LLC, health sciences major Zoodsma ’24 used her interest in sorority life to develop a business concept that aims to disrupt the Greek jewelry industry. Her story began as a young girl when she and her mother shared shopping outings at craft stores where they were instantly drawn to the jewelry section. Once in college, Zoodsma noticed that she rarely saw women wearing Greek jewelry on campus. That’s when the mother-daughter team started devising a way to make timeless, elegant sorority jewelry. They founded the company focused on making custom tennis bracelets that reflect a sorority’s color scheme.

“Our classic designs never go out of style and will sparkle for decades to come,” said Zoodsma, who is looking to expand into other sorority merchandise and school and sports spirit jewelry.

Despite the detailed presentations from all, dotflo came out on top among the judges. Judging the competition were Charlie Banks, managing director of VentureSouth, The Hill Institute’s namesake and vice chair of the Furman Board of Trustees Robert Hill ’83, and last year’s first place winner, Alexa Valdivinos ’25.

Still, all came away with $500 and a spot reserved for them in The Hill Institute’s 10-week GVL Starts program.

And while the chance to win $10,000 in seed money is attractive, the finalists reap other benefits.

white man on stage at pitch competition, Bryan Davis

Bryan Davis

Bryan Davis, The Hill Institute’s executive director, said he’s witnessed it multiple times. The competition acts as a “catapult” for moving an idea into action, making the process real for students. Besides igniting a can-do mentality, the competition, Davis said, launches an impactful cascade of next steps.

“They get a seat at our community-facing GVL Starts, where they continue to advance their venture and get connected to local investors, entrepreneurs and other leaders,” he said. “It’s really transformative.”

But the larger goal, Davis said, is more fundamental and shows why the competition serves as a fitting launch pad for Furman’s most ambitious campaign, Clearly Furman.

“Whether through Paladin Pitch or other programming at The Hill Institute, we want to create entrepreneurial-minded leaders,” he said. “And we do that by using venture creation as the curriculum for achieving that goal.”

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