Entrepreneurship Ignited at EKU’s Scholars Tank

Published on June 05, 2024

By Taylor Davis

Pitch a business idea in two minutes. Get $5,000 to start the business.

That’s the concept behind EKU’s annual Scholars Tank event, held in April, where students present their business ideas to a panel of business owners and professionals. The business idea chosen by the judges receives the $5,000 award to get the idea off the ground. In 120 seconds, students cover the basics of the idea, such as the target market, price breakdown and how they would use the prize money for the business. 

“Scholars Tank is a perfect example of the unique ways in which experiential learning takes place across EKU’s campus,” said EKU President David McFaddin. “Showcasing knowledge, creativity and innovation leads to life-changing transformations—as evidenced by the incredible opportunity for students to launch their entrepreneurial pursuits.”

This year’s event included six participants with their own innovative business plans, including a campus parking app, a vintage clothing store and a snow salt that does not destroy roads.

After deliberation from the judges, Tariq Smith, a sophomore risk management and insurance major from Richmond, was named the winner of Scholars Tank for his ATM business. With the Scholars Tank award, Smith will be purchasing a new ATM machine from a manufacturer and stocking it with the rest of the funds from the competition. Each transaction will generate a fee that he will use to restock the money in the machine and go toward expanding his business and purchasing more ATM machines. 

Smith’s idea for the business came to him unexpectedly.

“About a year ago, I started working at a hotel. At the hotel, there are certain things you can only pay cash for, like the vending machines,” Smith said. He recognized a problem that needed a solution. “It got me thinking that the hotel needed an ATM machine because I have people asking about once a week if we have an ATM.” 

Smith had thought and planned out his idea well before Scholars Tank. He shared his plans with friends, family and peers and received full support. Then when he heard about Scholars Tank, he was quick to apply. 

State Farm Insurance Agent and Agency Owner Ashley Williams was a first-time judge for Scholars Tank. Williams said Smith’s idea stood out to her because his ideas were articulated in a way that showed passion and attention to detail. 

“He had broken it down on how he would spend the money. He laid out how much he would spend on ATM machines, insurance and maintenance, which I thought was really great because you could see how much time he put into this business,” Williams said. 

Williams pointed out that Smith had already formed an LLC for his business, showing that he had done his research. 

“He thought about everything … every little detail,” Williams said. 

The panel of judges at this year’s Scholars Tank included Williams; Owner of CPR of Richmond KY, Debbie Alexander; Owner of Ashley’s Appliance Repair, Stefanie Ashley; Professor of Psychology and Co-Creator of Scholars Tank, Dr. Jonathan Gore; Founder and President of iBloom, Kelly Gore; Owner of R2 Property Inspections, Steve Roberts; and Owner of Sass in the Bluegrass and Chief Marketing Officer of The Vendor Social, Miranda Stewart. 

One piece of advice that Williams would offer Smith going into the new venture is to keep putting in the work.

The students who qualified for the final round of Scholars Tank included:

  • Chaz Burks, Parking App

  • Sam Jones, Thrift Clothing - Runner-Up

  • Kennedy Lee, Safe Ice Melt

  • Wesley Rice, AI Business Chatbot

  • Tariq Smith, ATM Vending Service - Winner

“Scholars Tank is an outstanding way for students to practice their public speaking, work through a business idea and receive feedback from professionals in the workplace who have experience starting a business and finding success in their field,” said EKU Assistant Professor of Marketing Dr. James Blair. “We are very thankful for Dr. Jon Gore and Dean Tom Martin for creating this opportunity for students to develop their entrepreneurial skills and be the next generation of leaders in our community.” 

Students from any major at EKU can add the Innovation and Entrepreneurial Thinking Minor, which provides skills and experiences to help put together a business plan and move the idea forward. As the School of Opportunity, EKU fosters and encourages innovative and creative thinking through academic programs and events such as Scholars Tank, held during the Scholars Showcase every year in April.