Trinity University students and judges observe finalists in the Louis H. Stumberg Venture Competition at Trinity University in 2018. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Tara Lujan began her pitch to investors with a simple question: how much water had they had that day?

“Most people can’t answer this with confidence, myself included,” said Lujan, a student at Trinity University.

In the next five minutes, Lujan pitched a panel of investors on a product that could solve that hydration uncertainty – a smart lid that attaches to water bottles and tracks water consumption throughout the day. Developed by her startup Sapphire, the lid connects to users’ phones to keep them updated on the amount of water consumed, much like an odometer tracks steps.

Sapphire was one of six finalists in Trinity University’s annual Stumberg Venture Competition, a contest for entrepreneurial students and their startups.

The competition began months ago when teams first applied for a spot in the program. In April, 10 student teams competed in the contest’s first round. Judges winnowed the larger group to six finalists, awarding each with $5,000 in seed funding. Over the summer, the finalists worked to finesse their plans. On Thursday, they pitched their startups to a panel of judges, who evaluated each team on their business plans, financial models, and marketing plans.

By the end of Thursday evening, judges announced Sapphire as the winner of the ultimate prize – $25,000 in seed money.

In previous years, the grand prize went to a company that improved motorcyclist safety and a cold brew bottling startup.

Lujan developed the idea for her product while practicing with the San Antonio Athenians, an elite soccer team. She overheard several teammates complaining about being dehydrated and not knowing how much water they had consumed that day. A smart lid lingered as a product idea for a while until she met another student who helped her develop the idea.

With the prize money, Lujan plans to use the money to make a “bulletproof product” – the best lid possible – and then reach out to water bottle manufacturers to strike a licensing agreement. The Trinity University junior isn’t interested in manufacturing the product herself, but she’d love to see her idea come to fruition in partnership with an existing brand.

Trinity University student Tara Lujan pitched a panel of investors on a product that attaches to water bottles and tracks water consumption throughout the day. Credit: Courtesy / Trinity University

As the Stumberg competition winner, that feels more possible, Lujan said.

“I want to make Trinity and the entrepreneurship department proud with what we’re going to do with this money in our business,” she said.

The Stumberg competition, now in its sixth year, is open to all students at Trinity, no matter their major, said Luis Martinez, director of Trinity’s Center for Innovation and Leadership.

This year the competition looked a little different, however. The pandemic forced both the students and the structure of the competition to adapt. Teams had to adjust their business models to fit the current needs of consumers, so the summer mentorship program went online and the final pitch competition was held virtually.

“You’re doing something exceptionally hard,” Martinez told the students. “You’re starting a venture. That’s hard. It’s even harder that you’re doing that as a student. … But you’re also doing it in the middle of COVID-19, a global recession, a global pandemic. If you can figure this out … you’re going to have a higher likelihood of success when things open up.”

The students competing took the lesson to heart, Martinez observed. For example, one team completely altered their proposed business – scrapping their proposal for a taco truck. Student Francisco Macias presented a multimedia platform geared toward immigrants.

On Thursday night, the other teams pitched a backpack company focused on serving users with back, shoulder, and neck pain; a mobile veterinarian who can perform euthanasia for pets inside a family home; a firm that helps small businesses build a presence in e-commerce and digital marketing; and a company focused on creating tasty, healthy snacks with all-natural ingredients.

Sapphire took the top prize, and the healthy snack company, Thoughtful, was named runner-up and the recipient of $5,000.

Moving forward, Martinez hopes each of the six teams use the last nine months of planning as a foundation to continue building their companies.

He wants them to “really take the moment to serve their customers and build real value.”

“That’s going to be the success of San Antonio,” he said. “It’s that rebuilding of what we’re doing. It’s that renewal of what this opportunity provides for us as a community. We’re excited about adding these six companies to the San Antonio ecosystem.”

Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.