AUBURN, Ala. (WRBL)-  The New Venture Accelerator Program at Auburn University is cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs. The program is a place for students to test new ideas, evaluate those ideas, and potentially turn them into successful businesses. Students involved in the accelerator competed in Auburn University’s version of “Shark Tank,” fittingly called the “Tiger Cage.”

For students, the experience was just as intimidating as pitching to Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran; they spent countless hours preparing their presentations for a panel of judges. 

Among those judges was attorney Ben Finley, founder of The Finley Firm. As students pitched their ideas, he wanted to help them navigate the legal side of their business endeavors. From intellectual property to copyright to branding, he recognized that students needed a mentor with legal expertise.

“More than ever we find with digital issues, with changes in technology,  the need for proprietary protection and intellectual property protection is as strong as it’s ever been,” Finley said. “We’re trained in this area and we’re trying to give back to Auburn. We want to give back to students, we want to give back to people in this area… because you never know where the next entrepreneur will come from and the next idea will come from.” 

Following the competition, Finley and fellow attorney Jeff Smith met with students for an entrepreneurship workshop. Smith serves as an attorney and principal shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, LLP. He has represented clients such as Future, Justin Timberlake and George Strait.

“I would never have been able to learn what I’ve learned If I hadn’t had a lot of great mentors, a lot of books,  being in class with other students as I went through school and learning from them…” Smith said.  “Giving back is important to me.”

When it comes to entrepreneurship, it’s either “get innovative” or go home. These Auburn University students are looking to launch the next Facebook or Amazon; they put their skills to the test throughout the ‘Tiger Cage’ competition.

Will Jordan, an Agricultural Communications major, took home the second place prize for his presentation on “The Best Roping Dummy,” a dummy that reduces the need for live cattle when training for team roping events. He describes it as “essentially a Tesla cow.”

“It drives itself down the arena, allows you to rope the horns and then rope the back legs and get a realistic practice without actually having to have a lot of extra help or have a lot of extra expense tied to live cattle that you’re having to feed whether you’re using them or not,” Jordan said.  

He walked away in his cowboy boots with startup capital. 

Another student, Zane Barbao, is developing “Feature Finder,” a social music platform where artists will be able to compete for featured verses on each other’s songs. 

Barbao says he came up with the idea while listening to music in his car. While driving, he thought about his love for songs that include more than one artist. He decided to create a platform to streamline the process of artists getting “featured” in each other’s music. Barbao is currently testing out the first version of his app; he believes “Feature Finder” will revolutionize the music industry. 

Engineering student Zakariya Veasy is creating a crowdsource banking platform where individuals, primarily immigrants, can have access to capital and are able to build credit. The crowdsource banking platform allows these individuals to earn money through micro-loans. 

“They haven’t been able to build credit prior, so what we help them with is building that credit and access to capital using family and friends on the platform,” Veasy said. 

Veasy describes the culture of the accelerator program as collaborative; working alongside other entrepreneurs prevents students from falling into a creative rut. Rather than having tunnel vision on a project, they bounce ideas off of each other. The diversity in students and types of projects creates a melting pot of ideas. 

Software engineering student Jesse Stewart says the communal environment helps keep him sane as he pours 100% energy into his project. 

“Any time you are insanely passionate about executing whatever your dream is, whatever your goal is, it’s very easy to start to feel isolated and feel that you’re crazy,” Stewart said. “Being in the New Venture Accelerator, you get to be around other entrepreneurs who are just as passionate about this as you are, just as crazy about this as you are about their project.”

Stewart combined his passion with his purpose. An avid gamer, he has quite literal “hands-on” experience when it comes to gaming software. While chatting with fellow gamers, he realized just how much money they all had poured into games – from hundreds to thousands of dollars. He developed “Virgo,” a plugin for video game developers that provides monetization, in-game analytics and access to a virtual marketplace. 

Whether it’s music, gaming or fashion,  these entrepreneurs are working to bring their innovations to life. Though they all come from different backgrounds, have different majors and are at different points in their startup careers, they all share the goal of creating the “next big thing.”