Competition judges with the NurseVersity team. Left to right: Rich Tinsley, Phoebe Wood, NurseVersity's Christy Lopp, Todd Wagner, Larry Hayes and NurseVersity's Tony Leonard.
won a $10,000 innovation prize offered by billionaire philanthropist and entrepreneur Todd Wagner at Bellarmine University on Friday.
NurseVersity has developed an interactive website that helps nurses prepare for licensing exams, with a goal of producing better critical thinkers who are more prepared for their tests. The product features instructional videos and simulated exams. The Jeffersonville, Ind., company -- led by Tony and Jodi Leonard and Christy Lopp, RN, BSN -- will use the funding to help grow and market their recently-launched product. The Search for the Next Big Thing
featured 29 entrepreneurs from Kentucky, Indiana and Ohio. After a morning innovation fair, five ideas were selected for a final round of presentations in the afternoon: Nurseversity, Clinical Decision Solutions, SilverSunn
, Smith Family Homes and SnapDolls
. Each runner-up received $1,000 from Wagner.
"We got to network with a lot of good people with great ideas," said NurseVersity's Tony Leonard. "That was as valuable as the opportunity to compete. Winning actually allows us to do some marketing for our business! This competition opened some doors that will allow us to involve more people in our growth."
The competition was sponsored by the Todd Wagner Foundation
, Bellarmine University’s schools of business
, the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development
and the Louisville Metro Department of Economic Growth and Innovation
. Proceeds benefitted the Meade Activity Center
, a planned wellness and community center in Brandenburg, Ky.
"What was amazing was the broad range of entrepreneurs with great ideas in areas as diverse as healthcare, technology, construction and retail," said Wagner. "This event proved that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in the heartland, where people see a problem and say, 'I can do that better.'
"While all the innovators we met had passion, I was impressed that the NurseVersity founders were 'all in.' Tony invested a lot of his own money, and even sold his Corvette. Their idea is something that the whole judging panel thought was a new twist on a problem, with a great chance that it'll become a success."
The judges for the final round included Wagner, Kentucky Economic Development secretary Larry Hayes, CompaniesWood principal Phoebe Wood and Signature Healthcare chief development officer Rich Tinsley.
SnapDolls founder Stacey Beeler (left) with Kari Wagner.
One of the finalists, Stacey Hoskins Beeler -- founder of SnapDolls
of Liberty, Ky. -- said the event offered her the opportunity to discuss her idea with state economic development officials, network with other participants and hear useful feedback from judges.
"Networking is the single most important thing we can do, since we may be able to partner with some of the other participants in the future," she said. "It was great to tell our story at this competition. I feel like we got better feedback here than anywhere else we've presented our product."
The competition included a social event on Thursday evening where participants were able to network with each other and ask Wagner questions.
Todd Wagner (center) with SilverSunn's Nick Mattingly (right) and Joe Humphrey (left). [photo courtesy Blake Reichenbach, The Concord]
founder Nick Mattingly, a 2010 Bellarmine graduate, said: "It was really great for us because of Todd Wagner's background in online streaming. Getting his take on what we're doing as a business was the most valuable part of the event." Mattingly's business partner is fellow 2010 Bellarmine graduate Dan Petrik.
Erik Evans, president of The Tire Ball Company
, took part in the preliminary round. "The Search did a tremendous job of attracting a diverse range of startups and products," he said. "My company, Tireballs, is a unique run-flat tire system and I felt just as at home as every other competing team. This event was a great chance to network with other aspiring entrepreneurs, get inspired by the story of Todd Wagner, and meet great supporters in our own local, state and community agencies. I enjoyed the opportunity to showcase Tireballs through a fun competition, while helping to raise money for a great cause."
Wagner and Mark Cuban co-founded Broadcast.com, which Yahoo! purchased in 1999 in a deal valued at $5.7 billion. His latest venture is Chideo, an interactive voting and video platform where celebrities and fans connect to raise money for charitable causes. Wagner now partners with Cuban on several entertainment ventures, including 2929 Productions, Magnolia Pictures, Landmark Theatres and AXS TV. He has led the Todd Wagner Foundation for more than a decade.