Penn State student Nathan Bonslaver won first place during the 2022 LION Tank™ pitch competition for his startup CarToCamp, which manufactures custom sleeping platforms for vehicles to enhance the car-camping experience.
LION Tank, which is staged by the Mont Alto LaunchBox, an innovation space that provides educational and technical resources to local entrepreneurs, was held at 6 p.m., Wednesday, April 6, at Penn State Mont Alto with a virtual option for competitors and audience members. The event. was sponsored by Patriot Federal Credit Union.
Five entrepreneurs competed in this year’s event with the top three pitches receiving prize money of $1,500, $1,000 and $500 respectively.
Bonslaver, who is studying mechanical engineering at Penn State Berks, conceived the idea for CarToCamp when he embarked on a two-month road trip throughout the United States, opting to sleep in his car at campgrounds instead of using a tent. He quickly discovered that individuals choosing this popular style of camping needed two things: a sturdy bed that fit their vehicle and organized storage options to help maximize car space.
After returning from his trip, he began working on a solution and ultimately landed on a sleeping platform rated for up to 500 pounds, while remaining relatively lightweight at 40 pounds, that is compatible with 17 different vehicle models giving buyers more flexibility when considering a new car purchase.
Second place was awarded to Chambersburg-based entrepreneur Blake Newbern for his business American Drone Services. In addition to providing aerial photography and cinematography for events and real estate, American Drone Services also has the ability to produce multidimensional maps for construction. Newbern also utilizes advanced drones and software to assist farmers with crop analysis for early detection of conditions adversely affecting crops, giving farmers time to prevent a failed harvest.
David Moyer, a computer science major at the University Park campus and founder of 42MORO Co L.L.C., won third place for his business Cannapy Tents. The business produces portable, environmentally safe greenhouses for cultivators that help reduce the spread of plant pathogens, especially gray mold and powdery mildew, by pairing the specially designed greenhouses with smartphone technology that allows growers to monitor for environmental conditions. This helps prevent the development of diseases and cross-contamination, potentially boosting crop yields by 20 to 40%.
Additional pitches were presented by:
- Talia East, Class of 2014, and founder of HER Tech World, a digital solution that matches women founders with venture capitalists to help increase the share of venture capital funding that goes to female entrepreneurs.
- Rachana Sooraj, Harsh Deokuliar, Preksha Vinod Kothari and Shahed Mahbub, all students at Penn State Great Valley and team members of SkaiVue, an AI-based drone company working to reduce annual losses to the construction industry as a result of failed projects by offering improved site surveying services to developers during the early planning stages of a project.
“This is our fifth year of LION Tank and each year the competition gets stronger and stronger,” said Helen McGarry, director of the Mont Alto LaunchBox. “It is truly inspiring to hear the innovative ideas and see the passion that finalists share with the judges and the audience.”
The competitors pitched their business plans to a panel of judges with experience in entrepreneurism and business development:
- John Rotz, retired business development officer at The First National Bank of Mercersburg
- Tom Trgovac, executive vice president and general counsel of Global Data Consultants LLC., in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
- Stephanie Wilson, owner of Symbiotic Marketing, also located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
Competitors were evaluated on the overall presentation of their business plan—including staying within a five-minute pitch window—how effectively they answered the judges’ questions, the viability of their startup and their ability to sell the judges on their business.
To help prepare for the pitch competition, contestants were paired with a pitch coach who worked with them on their business plans and presentations. The Mont Alto LaunchBox thanks this year’s pitch coaches for their time and support:
- Robin Burtner, director of the Shippensburg University Small Business Development Center
- Kathryn Gratton, certified small business mentor and founder of Red Lips Mentor L.L.C.
- Joe Hackett, executive in residence for Ben Franklin Technology Partners at the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, York College of Pennsylvania
- Georgina Cranston, business consultant for the Shippensburg University Small Business Development Center.
This year’s LION Tank competition was held during Penn State StartUp Week, powered by PNC, an annual University-wide event that celebrates entrepreneurial spirit by connecting students with alumni who have achieved success with their own startup initiatives. Comprised of networking events, student pitch competitions, and presentations from startup founders and innovators—many of whom are Penn State alumni—Startup Week is designed to inspire students to push the limits and think creatively about their future career paths.
The Mont Alto LaunchBox opened in January 2018 and offers free services to business entrepreneurs such as receiving legal assistance from Penn State's Entrepreneur Assistance Clinic at University Park to set up a new company or file a patent for a product.
More information about the Mont Alto LaunchBox is available at montalto.psu.edu/launchbox.