Winning ideas named in 2020 Tuscaloosa Innovates

Winning ideas named in 2020 Tuscaloosa Innovates
Winners of the 2020 Tuscaloosa Innovates Business Plan awards were TUTR, DuafeHair, Shippi App, Art Garage and Excellentway. (contributed)

An on-demand app for digital tutoring and a hair dryer product that will launch a beauty supply business were among the winners of the 2020 Tuscaloosa Innovates Business Plan competition.

Hosted by the University of Alabama, the community challenge transitioned into the virtual world when an in-person competition became unlikely because of COVID-19. Teams of creative entrepreneurs entered the competition at the perfect time to learn about managing their ideas during a crisis.

The competition, presented by the Alabama Entrepreneurship Institute (AEI) and The EDGE Incubator and Accelerator, is similar to AEI’s Edward Aldag Jr. Business Plan Competition, which supports innovators and entrepreneurs at the University of Alabama.

“We wanted to do the competition now, even if it had to be done virtually, because we’re hoping to work with these teams during the summer and bring them into some of our programs to help them get their businesses going,” AEI Executive Director Teresa Welbourne said.

The competition was held May 28, with judges and competitors taking part in a live Q&A via Zoom to discuss their earlier submitted virtual presentations. Prior to the Q&A session, participants uploaded a video of their business plan presentation so that judges could view the submissions on their own time.

The awards were sponsored by businesses throughout the Tuscaloosa community. The Tuscaloosa County Industrial Development Authority sponsored the $10,000 grand prize. BankFirst, Bryant Bank, Regions and Synovus helped create a $5,000 prize fund. The Alabama Small Business Development Center, the city of Tuscaloosa, the West Alabama Chamber of Commerce, the Alabama Power Foundation and the AEI were competition award sponsors.

This year’s grand-prize winner is Joshua Mickler, who created a mobile app, TUTR, that offers on-demand digital tutoring.

Pamela Foster, first-prize winner of $5,000, developed Heads UP, the proposed first product for her hair and beauty supply business, DuafeHair Inc.

The second prize of $3,000 was awarded to Shippi App by Reggie Murray. Shippi provides on-demand storage and a delivery service for items sold on Facebook Marketplace.

Joanna Lemmon, founder of the Art Garage, took third prize and $2,000 for her art studio that serves children and adults. The Art Garage provides a space to explore art through guided classes or in an unstructured environment.

Raytonya Hughes received the $3,250 Tuscaloosa Banking Community Award for creating Excellentway, which provides self-improvement services for Tuscaloosa residents.

Donnie Lee of The Lab USA received a $1,750 Tuscaloosa Banking Community Award for his player development organization that connects student-athletes with mentorship opportunities.

Before submitting final business plan presentations, competitors took part in a virtual information session and discussed presentation tips, judging criteria and how the competition would operate virtually.

After the competition, each team has access to entrepreneurial mentoring by the EDGE, gaining the experience of professionals in the Tuscaloosa area.

“I think anything we can do to get some inspiration to other Tuscaloosa residents to show that there are resources here to help you move your ideas forward is important,” Welbourne said. “Every day we’re trying to do more to support the community during the pandemic.”

Tuscaloosa has many bright innovators and entrepreneurs, some of whom lead major companies and others who work in smaller environments. The AEI and the EDGE Incubator and Accelerator lead the competition to highlight the business ventures of well-deserving creators who want to enhance their market position.

“What’s different about this competition is that it’s just for the community,” Welbourne said. “We’ve had other competitions that were for students, and we combined the program with some community opportunities, but this year we transitioned to an independent, community-only business plan competition.”

For a list of competitors, judges, facilitators and sponsors, visit

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