UK Student Entrepreneurs Working Hard and Succeeding

University of Kentucky student entrepreneurs, fresh off of several recent successes, are working hard to build upon that momentum as they prepare for more competitions against students from other schools across Kentucky.

Last weekend, the Stillage Solutions Team of UK students Fletcher Young and Zach Yonts, both MBA candidates in the Gatton College of Business and Economics, brought home first place in the graduate level division of the annual Alltech Innovation Competition held in Lexington. By using leftover stillage from the brewing and distilling process to produce activated carbon, the team hopes to develop a low-cost, high-quality and more environmentally friendly activated carbon product than what is currently developed using coal, coconut shells and wood. These activated carbons are produced utilizing a proprietary process developed by Steve Lipka, Ph.D., based on his research at UK’s Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER).

This achievement followed Stillage Solutions’ second-place finish in the Business Plan track of the Idea State U regionals held on March 29, at Lindsey Wilson College, in Columbia. Idea State U is Kentucky’s statewide business plan competition for teams at the Commonwealth’s colleges and universities.

Also at the Idea State U regionals, Welcome Home, a business idea hatched by College of Medicine graduate student Kai Zhang earned first place in the Business Model track.

Both Welcome Home and Stillage Solutions advanced to the 2017 Idea State U finals to be held at the Lexington Center in downtown Lexington on Saturday, April 22.

“We are very proud of all of these students,” said Warren Nash, director of the Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship, part of the Gatton College. “These results reflect well upon the work being done across our campus, including the Entrepreneurial Bootcamp program at the UK Venture Studio. Special thanks to Mariam Gorjian, our Von Allmen Center commercialization specialist, and Eric Hartman, director of the Lexington Office of the Kentucky Innovation Network, for their outstanding efforts on behalf of our student entrepreneurs.”

Coming up 3-5 p.m. Monday, April 10, at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, at 300 East Third St. in Lexington, is the 2017 SPARK Ignite event for young Central Kentucky entrepreneurs. 

SPARK Ignite features those students who have earned berths in the Lieutenant Governor’s Entrepreneurship Challenge for high schoolers, and in the Idea State U finals for collegiate entrepreneurs.

In this, its first year, over 250 high school teams encompassing every region of Kentucky have applied to compete for over $80,000 in scholarship money in the Lieutenant Governor’s Entrepreneurship Challenge (LGEC) ( The LGEC finals competition will be held on April 29, in the Kincaid Auditorium in UK’s Gatton College.

Idea State U ( is designed to instill an innovation and entrepreneurship mindset in the next generation. Teams compete for $100,000 in prize money intended to lead to the formation of real businesses.

At the SPARK Ignite event, LGEC and ISU teams will deliver short pitches outlining their entrepreneurial vision.

Registration is available at

Lead sponsors for SPARK Ignite are Commonwealth Seed Capital and the Lexington Office of the Kentucky Innovation Network/Von Allmen Center for Entrepreneurship.

Other sponsors include Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP, Bluegrass Angels, UK Coldstream Research Campus, Dean Dorton Allen Ford PLLC, Francis Law Firm, Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, Kentucky Highlands Innovation Center, Kentucky Science and Technology Corporation, King & Schickli PLLC, Mountjoy Chilton Medley LLP, and Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC.