Stetson students take top spots in Cairns Innovation Challenge

WINNING STUDENTS — Stetson University’s Jilissa Zoltko and Thomas Oltorik show off their checks for winning the top two spots at the Cairns Foundation Innovation Challenge.

WINNING STUDENTS — Stetson University’s Jilissa Zoltko and Thomas Oltorik show off their checks for winning the top two spots at the Cairns Foundation Innovation Challenge.

PHOTO COURTESY STETSON UNIVERSITY

A pair of Stetson University students placed first and second in the 2018 Cairns Foundation Innovation Challenge, which gives students enrolled in higher education in Volusia County an opportunity to present an entrepreneurial project idea to a panel of judges.

Thomas Oltorik of DeLand won the top prize of $10,000 plus one-year enrollment at the UCF Volusia County Business Incubator, and Jilissa Zoltko of Sarasota took home $5,000 plus one-year, pre-enrollment support at the Incubator.

Sponsored by the Cairns Foundation, the Daytona Beach UCF Business Incubator and Volusia County, the competition was held at the Advanced Technology Center on the Daytona State College campus. Participating schools included Stetson University, Daytona State College, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Bethune-Cookman University.

Zoltko and Oltorik were two of the three Stetson students among the final six contestants chosen by Cairns Foundation judges.

“I could not be more proud of Jilissa and Thomas,” said William Jackson, D.B.A., professor of entrepreneurship and director of the Prince Entrepreneurship Program. “Both accepted our coaching with an open mind, invested the necessary effort to be prepared both technically and mentally, and absolutely nailed their presentations.”

Oltorik is a graduate student in Stetson’s MBA program, whose winning idea, the “Quick Clip,” allows anglers to immediately replace a broken fishing rod guide, eliminating what is generally a timely and costly repair.

“I’m so thankful to the Cairns Foundation for this opportunity. This was a legitimate competition, with real investors asking probing and relevant questions,” Oltorik said. “The Innovation Challenge moved the Quick Clip from an idea to a business reality, fueling the fire to keep me moving forward.”

Zoltko, a senior majoring in business administration, presented her idea dubbed the “Smart Sleeve,” which is a slim, mesh cover that can be placed around the passenger seat of an automobile and used to secure items such as laptops, drinks, etc.

“This competition was an amazing experience and gave me the opportunity to see others with such phenomenal ideas,” Zoltko said. “It gave me the encouragement to move forward with my idea.”

She went on to explain that at the recommendation of Jackson and Lou Paris, assistant director of the Prince Entrepreneurship Program, she is now working with a mentor from Stetson’s Entrepreneurship Advisory Board to help foster connections and to further develop her commercialization options.

“Not only does this bring tremendous credit to our students, but to the entire Stetson community,” Jackson explained. “For these two students, their prizes represent needed early seed-stage funding that will allow them to move closer to bringing their ideas to market.”

The Stetson participants were led by Jackson and Paris.

— Marie Dinklage

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