‘Idiot-proof garden’ takes home $50,000 Cupid’s Cup prize

Two green-thumbed university alumni beat out five other top student entrepreneurs from across the country Friday to take home the $50,000 award for creating what they called “an idiot-proof garden.”

Earth Starter, a company launched by 2011 alumni Phil Weiner and John-Randall Gorby, was the winning entry in this university’s eighth annual Cupid’s Cup Business Competition. This was the first year the traditionally Terps-oriented contest expanded to a national stage, and on Friday the six finalists gathered at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center to give their final pitches in hopes of winning cash awards to help launch or sustain their startup companies.

 Weiner and Gorby were the developers of the Nourishmat, an all-in-one roll-out garden with built-in watering and weed barriers that allows people to easily grow their own food and flowers. The mat is paired with another company product, Seedballs, which are literally balls of seeds a customers can push into designated locations on the mat in order to plant them strategically. 

“There is a big demand for homegrown products that is not being met,” Weiner said. “Our Nourishmat and Seedball products put food, fun and family back into the equation.”

The idea for Earth Starter was long in the works before the company was launched in May 2011, Weiner said. He and Gorby invested $40,000 of their own money into their venture and released the finished products in January. Earth Starter has already cultivated partnerships with several major food suppliers, including Whole Foods.

The process came with its hardships, according to Weiner. 

“The most difficult component was finding resources on campus,” he said.

However, the hard work seemingly paid off as the judges were impressed with the company’s charismatic delivery.

“We’re Terps, through and through, so we must protect this garden,” Weiner told the judges.

Audiences and judges were on the same page, as Earth Starter also won the audience choice award and took home an additional $2,500.

Coming in second place was CoverPlay by University of Virginia alum David Marriott, who took home an award of $15,000. The company is the developer of the Mojo speaker, the world’s lightest premium Bluetooth speaker. While it is only 7 millimeters thin and weighs in at 4 ounces, the Mojo deliver an average of 90 decibels of sound and 10 hours of full-blast play on a single charge.

“The good sounding speakers are just too bulky,” Marriott said. “One of the best things about it, probably the best thing is that it is wireless. It can be connected to any of your devices through Bluetooth. 

Coverplay is growing at a rate of 85 percent per year, he added.

Coming in third place was Diagnostic anSERS Inc., a university-based spinoff company specializing in paper sensors for detecting chemicals, including drugs such as heroin, cocaine and pesticides. The company’s founders won $2,500 along with an additional $5,000 for best use of campus resources.

“[Chemical detection] affects everything we do, everything we touch, every single day,” co-founder and biomedical engineering graduate student Sean Virgile said.

Other competitors included Neural Analytics, a software used in diagnosing brain trauma; Moolaguides.com, a website on which students may sell and buy class notes; and Hole Patch, a product used to fill potholes in a streamlined process.



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