A lush green lawn may be the envy of every suburban neighborhood, but many homeowners find it too expensive to hire a lawn service, and too difficult to maintain it properly on their own.
That’s where student entrepreneur Matthew Ternullo steps in. He’s launching a lawn-care subscription service, called SimpliGreen, that provides a do-it-yourselfer with the supplies and instructions needed to create a beautiful lawn.
SimpliGreen won the top prize in this year’s Innovation Quest (iQ) competition, netting $15,000 and securing a spot for Ternullo in the coveted Summer InQbator business bootcamp.
The second-place finalist was ReduSeal, a glove-waste reduction system that can be used in medical centers and beyond. The company was created by nursing students Ellen Quintana, a junior, and teammate Kelsey MarcAurele, a sophomore. The team was awarded $10,000. Their idea was under development before the COVID-19 pandemic, but seems even more beneficial now, Quintana said.
Nicholas Anderson, a junior majoring in finance, took third place with his FLUSH Warranty business, a first-of-its-kind home protection plan that will insure all aspects of a septic system, from tank to leach fields, potentially saving customers up to $25,000. He was awarded $5,000 toward his business, which already has nearly 100 potential customers.
Pandemic Doesn’t Alter Entrepreneurial Spirit
Although the looming pandemic altered the competition’s in-person format, it reinforced the idea that entrepreneurs need to be flexible and adaptable, said alumnus Keith Fox ’80. Fox co-created the competition at UConn and has been a personal and financial backer.
“Although we had fewer teams apply this year –58 to last year’s 98–the consistent quality of the applications was actually higher. It was extremely difficult to pick the top three winners and top teams for the Summer InQbator,” he said.
“In our program, we teach entrepreneurs about dealing with the reality of the situation and the importance of business pivoting,” he said. The pandemic reinforced those ideals, he added. “We did not give up on the students. They did not give up on their ideas or their chance at their entrepreneurial journey,” he said.
Fox said he and management professor Rich Dino were proud of the teams, and all the judges and mentors who stepped up during a difficult time. “We used online video conferencing technology to keep the essence of the program. It was not a big leap for us. We have been doing this for nearly ten years,” he said.
“This year proved that successful entrepreneurship is about the idea, the team, and its desire; not about a classroom setting,” he said. “Virtual technology allows the team members to connect, regardless of their location.”
A Keen Perspective Connects Very Different Ideas
Although the three top teams have vastly different ideas, they are united by wisdom, observations, and the need to improve on long-standing problems.
Ternullo’s SimpliGreen lawncare idea has roots in the landscaping business that he started at age 10 in his hometown of Billerica, Mass. He recently sold the business to concentrate on his new project.
His company will ship lawn care supplies, in exact quantities, to a homeowner each month. The treatments will be based on a soil test, so that the products are personalized to the individual property. Ternullo, a senior with a double major in business management, with a concentration in entrepreneurship, and turf grass management, is passionate about not overusing product, which contributes to the contamination of the water supply.
Business Helps Address PPE Shortage
Quintana, the founder of the glove-waste reduction system, developed her idea in 2017 during a science lab, when she saw how frequently gloves were wasted.
“Every time someone reaches into a glove box, more gloves come out than needed. The extras are shoved back into the box or thrown away introducing risks of contamination and/or unnecessary waste,” said Quintana, a native of Cromwell, Conn. ReduSeal is an antimicrobial shield that can be placed over glove boxes to prevent waste.
She is particularly excited about its prospects at a time when personal protective equipment is scarce. While the company is initially targeting the healthcare industry, it can be adapted to any business that uses nitrile gloves, she said.
Quintana and MarcAurele, of Oakdale, Conn., are looking for business insight and mentorship that will guide them through the manufacturing process.
New Motto: ‘Just Flush, We’ll Take Care of the Rest’
FLUSH Warranty developed from Anderson’s experience working at a sanitation, septic and excavating business owned by his father and uncle.
“I’ve been working with my family sanitation company for over 10 years and, on multiple occasions, I’ve have had the unfortunate job of notifying a homeowner that their septic system has failed, and will cost between $15,000 and $25,000 to replace,” said Anderson.
“After witnessing the emotional distress that this sudden financial burden caused, I knew I had to come up with a better way,” said Anderson, of Madison, Conn. “My cousin and I recognized that there was a problem and we wanted to solve it. Our goal is to save our customers money and provide them with peace of mind. Our motto is, ‘Just flush; we’ll take care of the rest.'”
Anderson will start by offering the warranty service to the 8,600 customers affiliated with his family’s business. Nearly 100 of them have already expressed interest, and are waiting for lawyers to fine-tune the insurance contract.
UConn Provides Critical Support for Businesses
Most of the iQ finalists had won previous entrepreneurial competitions at UConn, and they all said they have more to learn.
“The connections that I made through iQ were huge, including the chief underwriter for a large insurance company,” Anderson said. He said he’s looking forward to the next step in his entrepreneurship journey, the summer inQbator program, where he hopes to learn more about marketing and building a company website.
“To sit down with people in the real world and discuss business logistics has been amazing,” he said. “The whole entrepreneurial atmosphere of Connecticut is unbelievable.”