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Virginia Tech students reveal business ideas at Global Entrepreneurship Challenge

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BLACKSBURG (WSLS10)-- Students at Virginia Tech are putting the final touches on their presentations as they get ready to compete in the Global Entrepreneurship Challenge, held by VT KnowledgeWorks.

Seven teams will present their business concepts before a panel of local business leaders, in hopes of winning the $15,000 in scholarship money on the line. Each team will have 12 minutes to pitch their product idea, in hopes of it one day becoming a real business. For some previous competitors, that hope has already become a reality.

You may have seen the Card Aisle vending machines at the City Market Building in Roanoke, the Roanoke Regional Airport or on campus at Virginia Tech, it's a project idea that stemmed from this competition. Card Aisle didn't win the year that it competed, but has gone on to be very successful. The company has put up kiosks all around the region, where people can personalize greeting cards.

There's also Heyo, another successful company that was born out of this competition. Heyo helps businesses create online sweepstakes and campaigns. Started by Virginia Tech students, the business was recently sold to a company in Denver, Colorado.

While having an idea become a business can be exciting, event organizers say the competition is about more than just making money.

"We emphasize the scholarship aspect of this whole thing," says Jim Flowers, the executive director of VT KnowledgeWorks. "If it becomes a business that's great, but the most important thing is that young people are learning about entrepreneurship, how to build a business model, how to do a stand-up presentation and things like that."

The teams have worked hard for months and even years on the products. Students David Evans and Patrick Acker have worked for two years on their product, called Yard Mapper. Their pitch has quickly moved on to tonight's competition and will even be competing in the ACC InVenture entrepreneurship finals in Atlanta next week. They say their idea all started two years ago, with a trip to the grocery store.

"It started out because I couldn't find peanut butter at a grocery store," says Evans, a junior. "We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if we had an app where you put in your grocery list and it showed you the fastest way around the store and where everything was?'"

Evans says the team quickly realized that teenage boys may be the only ones who had a hard time finding their way around the grocery store, so they expanded their idea to work for manufacturing businesses instead.

The team found that one of the biggest issues in manufacturing is that companies tend to lose shipping containers and trailers at big shipping yards.  When that happens, one person has to get in a vehicle and drive all around the shipping yard searching for the missing trailer. When a company loses or forgets about trailers that have been rented, the late fees can really add up.

"They spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on penalty fees and trying to find these trailers," says Acker, a senior. "This system comes in and locates each one just like Google Maps."

The team does have a few competitors, but say they can do the same work at just 50% of the cost of other companies like this.

It's a business idea they're hoping will continue after graduation. Yard Mapper already has a few real clients. Acker and Evans have recently started testing their system at a Frito-Lay distribution center in North Carolina. They're also working to implement the tracking system at the Volvo plant in Dublin as well.

Semifinals for the competition kick off at 1 p.m. at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center.