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The next level: Venture Challenge winners discuss plans for their companies

Last Wednesday, April 13, concluded LSU’s annual Student Incubator Venture Challenge.  This challenge serves as a way for students within the incubator program to win monetary prizes for their business.  Through weeks of preparation and eliminations – the final round came down to four ventures:  Tonal Innovations, Louisiana Decoy Company, Ambici, LLC and Lagniappe Onshore, LLC.  After pitching their business to a panelist of judges, the winner was finally announced.  Ambici, LLC was the newest first place winner of the challenge.

Reed Stephens, one of the co-founders and owners of Ambici, LLC describes his initial reaction after learning of his company’s win:

“Honestly, Tonal Innovations – their presentation was outstanding…they were very good, I thought they were going to get first place,” Stephens says. “And Duck Decoy, I thought he had a very good presentation too, and Offshore Lagniappe – their concepts were very cool. So, I thought if I got second or third I’d be very happy.  So when they called the first one I was like ‘ok cool’, then the second one got called and I was like ‘we’re next’, and then whenever Tonal Innovations got called for second place – the people in the crowd who were watching me said my jaw dropped.  I was very surprised.”


Reed and his brother Riley Stephens began their men’s wood watch company in January 2015, and Reed says the company has taken off and continues to have a growing interest.

“The wooden watch industry is relatively a new industry, so it’s growing but a lot of people don’t really know much about it, so it gives us a really good opportunity to capture the market share of that industry,” he says. “But a lot of [the wooden watches] look the same, they have the same design and everything but having an engineering background helps us because we can design our own.”

Reed is a mechanical engineering sophomore at LSU who says that his passion for wooden watches grew once he took a course in which he had to “breakdown” the mechanical structure of a watch, along with love for carpentry.

Ambici, LLC was rewarded the largest monetary reward of $8,250. Reed says he and Riley plan to use the money to further their company.

“A lot is going to go to the new website, SEO campaign, and some to marketing,” he says.

Reed says not only will the money help to take their business to the next level but the advice he was given by the judges will also help him with business decisions.

“Definitely, their advice on sustainability, how to keep [the business] growing, and moving forward,” he says. “That’s something that is really hard to do in any type of fashion industry, maintaining that sustainability.  They also gave a lot of good advice on intellectual property, just like protecting your designs, protecting the things that you do.”

Stephens says he’s looking forward to using all the experience, knowledge and funds he’s received through the challenge to make his business grow.

Gaining knowledge and experience was a common theme among the finalists. Daniel Wendt of Tonal Innovation says he also feels that the feedback he received from the judges will also help to grow his business.

“One of the judges told us that we are creating a new experience and we should capitalize that, not only on the hardware side but on the software side as well…which is something that we planned to do but to hear it from someone else, it’s nice to know that we’re going in the right direction.”


Tonal Innovation offers a product that takes reading music to an entire new level.  The company created a tool that allows musicians to easily attach electronic devices to their instruments as a way of viewing their sheet music.

The company received $6,250, which Wendt says will go towards promotional and marketing material.

“Later this year we’re going to Minnesota for the Athletic Band Directors Conference where we will meet hundreds of individuals who direct athletic bands, so we are going to need a lot of promotional materials.  We’re going to spend quite a bit of the budget on that for things like pop up stands, banners, tables, hand out materials just things we can use to market.”

Aaron Koenck, third place winner and owner of Louisiana Decoy Company says he will use his $5,500 to make some innovations to his product.

“I’m mainly going to use the money to make new molds which will increase the durability and realism of my product,” he says. “I also want to use the money for marketing to bring my company to the country as a whole.  It should see a lot of growth from that, even with just that amount of money.”


Koenck’s company specializes in decoys for waterfowl hunting, particularly goose and duck decoys.

He says although he did receive very valuable information from the judges, he is very thankful for the Student Incubator program itself.

“What’s nice is working with the incubator, we can continue to talk about issues that we have and continue to get good advice everyday.”


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