Freshman wins Faulkner Challenge


“Cow Fences,” an entrepreneurial business plan created by Ethan McPherson, won first place at the 2022 Faulkner Challenge at Fort Hays State University.

McPherson, a freshman from Manhattan, took home the $6,000 first-place cash award for his presentation. McPherson’s business was built on the concept of a virtual farmer’s meat market and will connect beef and pork producers directly to consumers. Future plans include expansion of the digital market to the full range of food products available at a traditional farmer’s market.

The Faulkner Challenge is a business plan competition designed to develop entrepreneurial imagination and innovation in university students, regardless of major or interests. It is open to any new venture in the conceptual, seed, or startup stages and to students from any community college or university in Kansas, whether public or private. Teams are evaluated on their ability to clearly identify a market opportunity, value proposition, and sustainable competitive advantage.

FHSU alum Kevin Faulkner established an endowed fund for the W.R. and Yvonne Robbins College of Business and Entrepreneurship business plan challenge that now bears his name. He supports the challenge in many ways, including serving as a judge for the competition.

“When I was a student, there was no competition like this, but I did participate in Model United Nations, debate, and forensics,” Faulkner said. “As a result, I learned that hands-on experience bridges education to the real world.”

The second-place $3,000 prize went to SkySprayers, a group of five students whose plan centered around building and patenting an autonomous lightweight drone for farmers to use in spraying their fields. The team used a detailed, animated video to demonstrate how their mobile system enabled their drone to fly to spraying missions, return to base and re-supply, and change batteries between flights. Team members were Tyler Preisser, Chance Fuhrman, John Gamez-Ramos, Wyatt Cyr, and Kole West.

Winning the $1,000 third-place award was Vitality Thrift, a team made up of Easton Bradbury, Caitlin Leiker, and Faith Little. The Vitality Thrift group’s concept was to create an online thrift store where part of the profit is returned to a not-for-profit organization.

The Faulkner Challenge is executed in three stages that proceed from submission and evaluation of a written business plan, to a 10-minute oral presentation semifinal round, to a “money” round of the final three teams. Each team provides a more elaborated, 15-minute presentation for the finals and is subject to more detailed questions and answers from a panel of expert judges.

A total of 13 teams of Fort Hays State students submitted entries for consideration, and a three-person committee selected eight to make oral presentations. One team withdrew before the presentations, leaving seven to vie for the finals. Judges for the competition included experts from Kansas, Texas, Utah, California, and Washington.

Dr. Rick Edgeman, director of FHSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship who is in charge of the challenge, said that all the teams chosen to give oral presentations brought great ideas. The judges asked questions at the end of the seven presentations and provided feedback to the students.

“The difference is found in how the teams respond to the advice from the judges (during the first round of presentations),” Edgeman said. “The judges press the contestants on issues, including finance, insurance, marketing, and what it really takes to develop a prototype.”

The three finalists were allowed to tweak their presentations before the finals. The judges commented that they were impressed with how McPherson took heed of the advice he received following his initial presentation held a week before the finals.

McPherson acknowledged that the entire process has been a rewarding, learning experience for him.

“This was a difficult challenge, and I spent a lot of sleepless nights working hard on it,” he said. “There were a lot of things I didn’t know when I started, but I spoke to several experts from around the country and built a great team. They helped me become the best founder and organizer I could be for this company.”

Now, McPherson and the Faulkner Challenge runner-up team will compete at the regional level. He and three members of SkySprayers (Preisser, Fuhrman, and Gamez-Ramos) have entered the Regnier Venture Creation Challenge at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. That challenge features several divisions and a total of $88,000 in prizes. Semifinalists for that competition will be announced later this month.

Edgeman said that students benefit immensely from participating in such premium experiential learning opportunities.

“The money is a benefit, of course,” he said. “The greatest value in competing in such challenges, however, is providing students with a venue to comprehensively consider what it takes to start a business – resources needed, legal and financial considerations, intellectual property creation and protection, marketing, and more. Then, to have those plans scrutinized by experts helps provide significant and useful feedback aimed at helping teams advance and realize their ambitions.”  

Following is a list of the top three finishers in this year’s Faulkner Challenge and their hometowns:

First place

Ethan McPherson, Manhattan

Second place

Tyler Preisser, Buhler

Chance Fuhrman, Bronson

John Gamez-Ramos, Ellis

Wyatt Cyr, Clyde

Kole West, Thornton, Colo.

Third place

Easton Bradbury, Colwich

Caitlyn Leiker, Hays Faith Little, Holton

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