Northern Kentucky University graduate student Isaiah Kelly is heading to one of the most prominent business pitch competitions around the world. Kelly earned a bid to the Rice Business Plan Competition, hosted by Rice University, where 54 student-led startups compete for $1.5 million in funding and resources. He is the first student in NKU’s rich legacy of entrepreneurship to qualify for the event.
“This is one of the premier competitions, not the typical pitch to a panel of judges for prize money competition. Rather, it’s an investment competition with over 300 entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture capitalists looking to buy a stake in your business,” said Dr. David Schneider, director of NKU’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
“Some call this the Super Bowl of business competitions for entrepreneurs, so it's a completely different ball game.”
With the support of NKU’s CIE, Kelly turned his hobby into a business and founded Smoove Creations in 2018. Smoove Creations is a shoe and apparel customization-based service that offers complete design freedom for customers to express themselves and their passions. His team has worked with regional and national organizations to create custom designs and elevate their branding, including St. Elizabeth Healthcare and the Las Vegas Raiders.
“I'm humbled for the opportunity to represent NKU and compete against the top-ranked global startups and universities,” said Kelly. “The NKU CIE has been instrumental to my growth and preparation. Their guidance has taught me the ins and outs of operating a business and the field in general. They are the vehicle for my success, and I wouldn't be where I am now without NKU.”
Housed in NKU's Haile/US Bank College of Business, the CIE allows students to take ownership of their future through innovation and entrepreneurial activities. Many students take the classroom concepts and start their own business through its internationally ranked 12-week business accelerator, the INKUBATOR. Staff and mentors provide guidance, team building, access to capital, connections and flexible office space to scale startups.
Kelly's invitation to the Rice Competition builds his successful track record. He recently won the Entrepreneur Organization's Cincinnati Regional competition for the second year in a row and was named one of the country's top 30 student entrepreneurs. He also took home second place in the KY Pitch competition. Additionally, he was a finalist in competitions at Baylor University and Texas Christian University last fall.
“Challenging the status quo has been at the forefront of what we do at NKU. We created one of the earliest entrepreneurial programs in the country,” said Dean Hassan HassabElnaby, Haile/US Bank College of Business. “Isaiah will compete against students from well-renowned schools with the legacies of creating incredible startups. He is the first to represent NKU in this event, which truly speaks to his drive and ambition.”
NKU's Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has been named one of the world's best in creating, advancing and enabling entrepreneurship educational opportunities by the Global Consortium of Entrepreneurship Center. To learn more about the CIE, visit its website.