OXFORD, Mississippi — When Brea Givens transferred to the University of Mississippi as a junior in 2019, she struggled to find a compatible roommate, so she started developing her own app to streamline the process and get best results.
This led to Froomie, which offers colocation and housing solutions for students, and which just won first place in the university’s 17th annual Gillespie business plan competition. Givens, the founder and CEO, will receive $10,000 for her LLC and one year of free office space, valued at $3,600, at the Insight Park Innovation Center.
She also won the Lynn and Ron Samuels Student Entrepreneur Award, which includes an additional $5,000.
A finance major from Austin, Texas, Givens couldn’t find a suitable roommate when she transferred to Ole Miss from Austin Community College and had to resort to random placement. This experience exposed her to the lack of resources students have to find roommates and off-campus housing.
“It’s great to see Brea Givens’ idea for Froomie grow into an LLC; she applied the judges’ feedback from last year,” said Clay Dibrell, co-director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “Through her hard work and those who have worked with her, she is looking to launch Froomie in the near future.”
Givens won the sixth Mid-South Business Model Competition in November 2020 and has been working to grow the business ever since.
“From BMC, I focused on finalizing the initial functionality of Froomie’s mobile platform by working with a UI/UX designer and talking to potential customers and users,” said Givens. “It’s great to know that I have the support of the school and its alumni.
“CIE has played a huge role in helping me get to where I am today, and I couldn’t have done it without their continued support and mentorship.”
Participation was up 30% from last year’s Gillespie competition, said Tong Meng, director of programs at the university’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which sponsors both competitions.
“We had teams from diverse backgrounds, from freshmen to graduate students, teams with just an idea to those who were post-returners, from IMC majors to biomedical engineering majors,” Meng said. “We are delighted that students recognize and trust CIE and its programming as key resources, where they can receive support in their entrepreneurial quest.”
From 27 submissions, six business ideas were chosen to be presented to a panel of seven judges in the final round.
Final round judges included: Abb Payne, Founder and CEO of The Payne Companies; Stephen Richards, founder of Richard’s Bespoke; William Yates, CEO of Yates Construction; Emmet Seibels, co-founder and former president of Verus Healthcare; Liza Cirlot Looser, CEO of the Cirlot agency; Jan Farrington, former executive director of Medical Support and Development Organization Inc.; and Lawrence Farrington, board member of mTrade Inc. and the UM Foundation.
SageApp, a platform designed to improve online learning for students and teachers, was ranked second in the competition. It was founded by Austin Wallace, of Southaven, and Michael Valencia, of Nashville, Tennessee, both chemistry juniors. They received $5,000 for their LLC.
Three additional prizes, each worth $5,000, were awarded from donations to support CIE, with Givens winning the Lynn and Ron Samuels Prize for Student Entrepreneurs.
Senior biomedical engineering majors Tristan Daily, of Saltillo; Noah McKone, of Bogue Chitto; Jake Smith, of Hernando; and Owen Barry of Madison received the Thomas W. Colbert-Community Bank Innovation Award for Rolling Thunder, a concept to improve rehabilitation and comfort for people in wheelchairs. This award recognizes an exceptional company motivated by innovation in a product/process/service or the development of a technological change.
HoopAtlanta received the Stephen E. Rowell Entrepreneur Award for exemplifying the entrepreneurial spirit through innovation-driven business. Jordan Wyton, a senior multidisciplinary studies student from Grayson, Georgia, started this business to host organized basketball games for fun, quick sessions with no long-term commitments; it has already expanded to Charlotte, North Carolina and Nashville.
“We are grateful to our sponsors and their support which allows us to provide monetary prizes to help launch these student-led businesses,” said Ken Cyree, dean of the UM School of Business Administration. “It’s encouraging to note the adaptability and resilience of our students to adapt in these interesting times, and I think the future for these Ole Miss entrepreneurs is bright.”