Business that grew from UK Venture Challenge launching a phone app

lblackford@herald-leader.comJanuary 20, 2013 

The winning team of Stadionaut — Anthony Antonicello, left, VP of marketing, and co-founders Evan Leach and Scott Wagner — developed an app to get fans more involved in baseball games.

In late 2011, Evan Leach was sitting around with friends talking about how much they loved playing baseball as kids and how boring it was to watch as adults.

"It's boring because we're not engaged with what's going on in the field; it's really passive and slow," said Leach. "So we thought, what if we built in a competition with what's happening in the field?"

Thus Crowded, a phone application, was conceived. It allows spectators to compete with their friends, predicting plays based on players' stats and history.

Leach and his friends Ranajay Sen and Scott Wagner formed a company called Stadionaut and entered the first University of Kentucky Venture Challenge last year. They won $2,000.

Leach, now a UK graduate, hooked up with Awesome Inc., a startup accelerator on Main Street, and in March, Crowded will be launched for the major leagues. It hopes to generate revenue with targeted advertising.

The company serves as inspiration for participants in the second UK Venture Challenge, the university's annual business competition for student entrepreneurs, which is now taking applications.

The competition will be Feb. 16 at the James F. Hardymon Theater in the Davis Marksbury Building. Teams compete for $3,000 in prize money and the opportunity to represent UK at the state business competition, Idea State U.

"This is a great opportunity for students who have an idea for an innovation to develop that idea into a potential business venture," said Dan O'Hair, dean of the College of Communication and Information.

O'Hair was a founder of the Innovation Network for Entrepreneurial Thinking, iNET, an undergraduate program aimed at promoting entrepreneurship. The program offers classes and special opportunities that can lead to an undergraduate certificate in entrepreneurial studies.

Leach is especially enthusiastic about iNET, which is aimed at helping students like him get started in business. After all, he was an animal science major who changed directions.

"UK is creating something that's very important in Lexington," he said. "The iNET program is in its early stages, but I see it being a very important part of the university and eventually, Lexington, because it's encouraging entrepreneurship."

Another idea that did well in last year's Venture Challenge is now a company that has an office down the hall from Leach. Tagapet uses GPS and mobile phone technology to help owners find lost pets.

The UK Venture Challenge is open to all UK undergraduate and graduate students with an idea for an innovation, service or product for a for-profit or non-profit business venture. Students select either the business concept or the business plan category, submit a written entry, and make a pitch before a panel of judges Feb. 16. Written entries are due Jan. 28. For more information, go to ci.uky.edu/inet/page/uk-venture-challenge.

A new feature of the competition this year allows the public to vote for their favorite student venture video. Participating students will be encouraging their supporters to cast a daily vote until voting closes at midnight Feb. 15. The winner will be announced following the presentations Feb. 16.

The cash prize is sponsored by the Bluegrass Business Development Partnership, which includes the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, Commerce Lexington and the University of Kentucky.

Linda B. Blackford: (859) 231-1359 Twitter: @lbblackford.

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