By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2015, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
At this year’s Governor’s Cup competition, it seemed like more students than ever were really wanting to move forward with their business plans.
Pulse LLC from the University of Central Oklahoma is one of those teams as I learned from talking with team leader Carissa Jetto.
Pulse replaces traditional dairy yogurts with nondairy alternative yogurts that provide dietary fiber, protein, folate and iron while eliminating preservatives. The team placed third in the Gov Cup’s Undergraduate High Growth Division.
Jetto has an interesting background. She attended Le Cordon Bleu culinary school and worked on a cruise ship and at country clubs. She’s raising her family now and back in school, a senior at UCO majoring in nutrition.
Jetto is a vegan and was especially interested in developing a yogurt that is entirely plant based. She started in her kitchen and worked with her faculty mentor, Kanika Bhargava, to develop a patent-pending process and formulation to make a nondairy yogurt from a variety of food products that have no known allergens.
“Food is my number one passion,” she told me. “I know food. That’s what I do. I have a million ideas. I’m definitely taking this forward.”
With the help of Maurice Haff, Pulse team advisor and instructor in UCO’s Department of Management, Bhargava and Jetto filled for patents in December.
The Pulse team, under the direction of Haff and Robert Epstein, UCO professor of management, plans to continue developing the company and will use UCO’s commercial kitchen facility this summer to produce the initial product.
While Pulse is in the bootstrap phase, Jetto is keeping things simple with an “artisan” branding. Her target market is health enthusiasts and people who suffer milk and other food allergies.
After presenting to Oklahoma-based Buy for Less, Pulse gained the opportunity for shelf space in five stores.
“When you go into this, you have to dive in head first,” Jetto said. “I’ve learned more in this 16-week Governor’s Cup experience than I could have learned in any classroom. Winning in this prestigious competition and seeing this idea go from kitchen to patent application to having a shelf in a store is just amazing.”
Since the business plan competition began 11 years ago, more than 1,500 college students from schools across Oklahoma have taken the Gov Cup Challenge. As a result, Oklahoma has garnered more than 23 emerging Oklahoma small businesses. More than 1,500 students have learned what it takes to put together a business plan and investor pitch.
Next year is the final year of Gov Cup prize funding from the Reynolds Foundation. We’ll be looking statewide for corporate investment and sponsorship.
There’s no better way to discover this state’s budding entrepreneurs and innovators like the Carissa Jettos and help them launch new businesses.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
Did You Know? In 11 years, the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup has produced more than 500 innovative ideas from 32 campuses statewide.