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Oklahoma State student startup team sees great success at business competitions

Monday, April 24 2017

From left, Haley Kurtz and Kevin Keith of MITO Material Solutions takes first at the 2016 Governor's Cup in Oklahoma City.

MITO Material Solutions is a student startup team created by Oklahoma State University MBA student Haley Kurtz and mechanical engineering technology student Kevin Keith.

Kurtz, chief executive officer, and Keith, chief operating officer, are under the guidance of assistant professor of entrepreneurship Richard Gajan and professor Ranji Vaidyanathan of the OSU College of Engineering, Architecture and Technology. Kurtz and Keith are also a part of the accelerateOSU program.

Kurtz says the opportunity to work with this startup is because of resources provided through the MBA program and working for accelerate OSU. While she is only a part-time MBA student, she dedicates her time to school, MITO Material Solutions, and traveling to competitions. She also works full-time for accelerateOSU, the OSU School of Entrepreneurship’s newest division that aids student startups.

Kurtz was interested in the Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) class, which provides its students with a project. This is a one semester class offered in the fall with the goal for its students to understand and commercialize technology. To enroll in the class, students must complete the interview process where only 30 students are selected for the class, and only 10 of the 30 students are MBA students. This class presented Kurtz the opportunity to work with MITO.

Not only does Kurtz work with CIE program but she also works closely with the OSU Technology Development Center.

During her studies in the MBA program, Kurtz has taken classes in accounting and finance, which she says have helped her on the business side of developing MITO. She credits the emotional intelligence class to her strengthening her role as the CEO.

“In the class Contemporary Management Topics we learned about emotional intelligence in personal life and a business setting,” Kurtz said. “It helped develop a CEO mentality and emphasized the importance of looking forward in business planning.”

Kurtz and Keith won $90,000 total from the 2017 Rice Business Plan Competition.

From a young age, Kurtz knew she wanted to do something in business, and she began competing in business competitions as early as high school. As an undergraduate, she thrived in history classes and realized this would be a great area to pursue her degree. Kurtz says her history degree pertains more to her business endeavors more than she expected.

“In history, you pick pivotal points and you tell the story,” Kurtz said. “It is much like business when you find the pivotal points for a company and develop the plan from there.”

Kurtz feels she has excelled in the MBA program through understanding technology and explaining how it works.

“I can listen to customers and adapt the strategy to fit their needs,” Kurtz said.

MITO’s product is an adhesive epoxy additive based on technology developed by the Helmerich Research Center in Tulsa. This additive allows manufacturers to double the durability or significantly decreases the weight of composite materials. The additive is for the industries of recreation and automotive.

Last year, the team competed in the 2016 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup, hosted by i2E in Oklahoma City. MITO placed first in the High Growth Graduate Division receiving $20,000. In February 2017, MITO participated in the Baylor Business New Venture Competition. The team placed second and was awarded an investment prize totaling $35,000.

More recently, MITO received $50,000 in investment prizing by placing second in the prestigious Rice Business Plan Competition, sponsored by Finger Interest and the Anderson Family Fund at the Greater Houston Community Foundation. Kurtz won the Courageous Women Entrepreneur award, provided by nCourage Entrepreneurs Investment Group, receiving $40,000 in investment prizing. Keith received $500 for placing fifth in the Mercury Fund Elevator Pitch Competition.

Then, the student startup team placed second at the Oregon New Venture Championship hosted by the University of Oregon. MITO received $10,000 in investment prizing for placing second and $1,000 for winning the Palo Alto Software Best One Page Pitch.

Looking back on this experience, Kurtz would like to credit the OSU MBA program for giving her the resources and classes to develop this opportunity.

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