Recent graduates excel in statewide startup contest

When Caleb Hearn and Samuel Herrera graduated from UNG in May 2019, they took much more than a bachelor’s degree with them.

The pair of business administration graduates carried invaluable entrepreneurial experience honed at UNG. And they showed off those skills in the statewide inaugural Georgia InVenture Prize student startup contest held in April in Atlanta. The competition was geared toward college students and aims to foster innovation, entrepreneurship and start-up creation.

Hearn and Herrera created an app – Opus Affinity – that targets craft breweries and wineries and features a two-part plan. The first part helps breweries tell their stories and build brand loyalty with custom software that links to videos in the app. The second part involves options for those who give craft brews and other specialty items as gifts. A video message can be uploaded and linked to the logo, then viewed by the recipient via the app’s custom image recognition software.

Their idea earned them top honors and a $2,000 first prize at the inaugural innovateUNG Pitch Challenge held in February. That victory qualified them for the Georgia InVenture Prize, where a $25,000 first prize was on the line.

The UNG team finished in the top five out of 19 university and college teams in the two-day, statewide event. During the competition, Hearn and Herrera pitched their app to entrepreneurs Janelle Fitzpatrick, Lonnie Johnson and Tiffany Krumins on a live Georgia Public Broadcasting show.

“I can’t think of a better team of student entrepreneurs than Caleb Hearn and Samuel Herrera to have represented UNG in the inaugural Georgia InVenture Prize competition,” said Dr. Mary Gowan, dean of UNG’s Mike Cottrell College of Business. “Their presentation was polished and on target. They demonstrated they had a viable business and plans to scale it going forward, and they answered questions from the judges with confidence.”

Johnson, the inventor of the Super Soaker, said he could see the Opus Affinity app catching on with breweries not wanting to miss out on the service Opus Affinity’s customers are receiving.

“We’re very happy with how it went,” Hearn said. “We came in with the goal of reaching the final five, so we’re ecstatic. I think we represented UNG very well, and we’re very happy with how UNG helped us out.”

Hearn, from Powder Springs, Georgia, and Herrera, from Cumming, Georgia, were grateful to have the chance to share their idea with a large audience.
“This kind of exposure doesn’t come often,” Herrera said.

Dr. Ruben Boling, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UNG, expressed gratitude to administration, faculty, staff, and students for their support of Hearn and Herrera.

“They had a great idea, and they worked extremely hard to get to the statewide competition,” Boling said. “When they took the stage at GPB, I knew it was going to be good because they knew exactly what they were doing, what their market is, how they’re going to take it to market. They’re going to be successful in whatever they do. I have no doubt.”

A previous version of this story was published April 8, 2019.