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Digital Marketing Firm Receives First Prize at UM Gillespie Competition

By Lauren Munnell

University of Mississippi

Claire Ficek, winner of the 19th annual Gillespie Business Plan Competition, receives congratulation from fellow competitors. Ficek, a University of Mississippi sophomore from Maple Plain, Minnesota, is the founder and CEO of Altar’d Socials, a social media platform developed to improve business’ social media initiatives. Photo by Joe Worthem

A social media marketing business that uses a five-task plan to effectively manage digital marketing took first place in the 2023 Gillespie Business Plan Competition at the University of Mississippi.

Altar’d Socials, founded by Claire Ficek, a sophomore integrated marketing and communications major from Maple Plain, Minnesota, was declared the overall winner of the annual contest. Her company oversees website management, content creation and engagement on social media apps, as well as email marketing for their customers.

“I am blessed to be a part of such an amazing organization like the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and have the opportunities they provide for students,” Ficek said. “The Gillespie Business Plan Competition was just one example of adults in our community coming together to support us as students.”

Ficek won $15,000 for her business, plus a year’s worth of office space at Insight Park. She was named a Seibels Scholar, which also brought her an additional $5,000.

“Claire Ficek provided amazing pitches for her post-revenue Altar’d Socials venture, which led to her victory” said Clay Dibrell, co-director of the CIE. “Going forward, we look for great things from her, as well as the rest of our Ole Miss student entrepreneurs.”

The second-place winner in the competition was iOS Launch, a service providing software development to small businesses and startups. The company was awarded $5,000. This service was founded by senior Carson Zylicz, an accounting and finance major from Sugar Land, Texas.

This service allows small businesses and startups to customize mobile app templates to help them compete with larger organizations. One of Zylicz’s apps provided software for the 2022 Gillespie Business Competition winner, Rumie App.

Among the other finalists were SellVNTG LLC, Up4Grabs, Navigator Medical and Abbikadabbi’s Baking Co. Each of these businesses competed in the final round and received $1,250.

The CIE supports students who create and build business plans and ideas, and hosts the business plan competition each year.

“The Gillespie Business Plan Competition is the culmination of our Ole Miss student entrepreneurs working on their ventures through our CIE student competitions, entrepreneurship major and minor classes, as well as working individually with our faculty, campus and virtual mentors, and other student entrepreneurship support groups, such as the Innovation Hub at Insight Park and the Rebel Venture Capital Fund.” Dibrell said.

Several students also received Gillespie special awards:

  • Navigator Medical was awarded the Thomas W. Colbert-Community Bank Innovation Award for $5,000, provided by Community Bank, of Flowood.
  • Abbikadabbi’s Baking Co. received the GenTeal Apparel Consumer-Facing Award for $5,000, funded by GenTeal, of Oxford.
  • LeaseSavvy earned the Lynn and Ron Samuels Student Entrepreneur Award for $5,000 , provided by Lynn and Ron Samuels, of Nashville, Tennessee.
  • The Big Sis Organization LLC received the Stephen E. Rowell Entrepreneur Award for $5,000, funded by Stephen Rowell, of Brandon.
  • Moose Medical was awarded the Edward G. Francis Sr. Entrepreneur Award for $2,500, provided by Edward Francis Sr., of Denver.
  • FAX took the Most Improved Business Award for $2,500.

“This year’s Gillespie Business Plan Competition set records for the amount of money given to students that totaled $50,000” said Ken Cyree, dean of the School of Business Administration. “This is an amazing success story and indicates the dedication of our faculty and staff, and the commitment of our alumni in funding these budding entrepreneurs.”

The Landshark Tank Video Pitch first prize of $1,000 was awarded to The Big Sis Organization LLC; second prize of $500, to SOLIEX; and third prize of $300, to Sassy Workwear.

“This year’s Gillespie reached a record high of 47 total entries and presented more developed businesses and polished pitches since COVID, which is really exciting and encouraging” said Tong Meng, CIE program director. “We couldn’t have achieved this without the generous support from our mentors, especially Owens Alexander, Anne Mathis, Bill Andrews, Bill Mobley and Dr. Josie Burks.”

The final round judges were: Troy Drewry, a professor of practice in biomedical engineering; Jan Farrington, former executive director of Medical Support and Development Organization Inc.; Lawrence Farrington, member of the board of directors for mTrade Inc.; Liza Cirlot Looser, CEO of The Cirlot Agency; Rick Looser, COO and president of The Cirlot Agency; Lois Lovelady-Rayburn, co-founder, president and chief revenue officer of mTrade; Matt Mossberg, managing partner of West Group’ and Steve Rowell, president and owner of Flagstar Construction.


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