A Catch-22 is usually considered a no-win situation from which there is no escape. But for the UALR College of Business team, Catch-22, who won big at the 2013 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup awards, the moment was sweet victory.
In one of the premier business-plan competitions in America, Catch-22 earned a first place award and $25,000 for its undergraduate business proposal to create a high-quality organic fertilizer from Asian carp, an undesirable fish population that has invaded the Mississippi River Basin.
Team members James Rutherford, Ryan Guinee, Robert Grasby, and Brandon Burroughs, along with team advisor, Richard Crane, also took home the first place Arkansas Farm Bureau Agriculture Award and $6,000.
Competing against 47 teams from 13 Arkansas colleges and universities, Catch-22 was the biggest financial winner of the day. Prizes were awarded April 10 at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.
Team Advances to Tri-State Competition
Now CATCH-22 advances to the Donald W. Reynolds Tri-state Awards competition in Las Vegas in May, where teams from Arkansas, Nevada, and Oklahoma will compete for $118,000 in prizes.
Like any startup business team, its members will be extraordinarily busy in the meantime.
They are taking a portion of their winnings and putting their plan into action, making contacts with fishermen in the Arkansas Delta to determine appropriate price points and performing fertilizer tests before the competition in Las Vegas.
Because team members enlisted the help of a chemical engineer, they are certain their fertilizer, which uses the entire fish and all of its micronutrients, improves on anything currently available in the market.
“We know it is better, but what we don’t know yet is just how much better,” acknowledged Guinee, who serves as the team’s chief marketing officer.
Guinee gave credit for the idea to team advisor, Richard Crane, who first suggested the Asian carp problem as one needing a viable business solution.
“Our initial thought was that it was not technologically impressive,” admitted Guinee.
It didn’t take long for team members to realize the beauty of the project was in its simplicity. In about two months, they developed a plan to deal with a serious environmental issue by offering what they strongly believed to be a simple, yet effective, environmental solution.
“What surprised us the most was that the fertilizer barrier to entry (ease in entering the market to sell a product) was so low and that the profit margins were so high, at about 70 to 80 percent, this plan was an exceptional one,” Guinee said.
The one negative? “Others can come in and compete easily, as well,” Guinee said.
Solution First in Region, Nation
Still, the team can boast that it is the first business in the region to attempt such a solution and the first in the country to use the whole fish. It is also the first time in the 13-year history of the Governor’s Cup for UALR to take home the win.
“To come out on top against not only great leadership, but also some really great ideas, it was extremely rewarding and we’re all sort of on cloud nine,” said Guinee.
The team’s name, which connotes anything but a successful end to a recurring problem, stems from an early concern expressed by the team members — what if the business is so successful in using the carp that there is a strong risk of depleting their supply?
“That means your own success may spell your own demise, hence, the name ‘Catch-22,’” said Crane. “Fortunately what we realized, and answered for the judges, was that there is no way we would deplete all the carp. That’s the vast size of the problem.”
Crane said the team was already thinking ahead about these kind of potential problems and possible solutions, such as growing carp in ponds formerly used in catfish farming, now lying mostly dormant after lower-priced Chinese competition entered into market.
“I was blessed with these four guys; they worked so wonderfully together,” said Crane. “They were so passionate about this project that they put in the extra work to win it. They just committed themselves fully.”
Crane said having been in the business world his entire life, he knew he wanted the team to begin with the end in mind. They reviewed hours of past Governor’s Cup winners and practiced their presentation before six panels of former cup judges and business executives in the weeks leading to the competition.
“I think we can win this thing forever now … It shows that if you build a team of students committed to win and a process, anything is achievable,” said Crane. “There was no question asked they didn’t already have an answer for. I’m sure I got as much out of it as they did.”
“The Catch-22 team is an example of the caliber of our students,” said UALR College of Business Dean Jane Wayland. “I look forward to continued success at the Governor’s Cup Competition.”
The Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup competition encourages students attending any Arkansas two or four-year college or university to act on their ideas and talents in order to produce tomorrow’s businesses.