On Jan. 17, Abilene Christian University’s Springboard Ideas Challenge visited the Early Chamber of Commerce looking for local entrepreneurs with big ideas to make an “elevator pitch” for their product or service.   

Two local innovators emerged from that phase of the contest, and are now competing with teams from throughout the region for the $15,000 grand prize that will be awarded in May. Richard Harding and Curtis Powell will attend workshops in Abilene and develop business models as they inch closer to the final phase of Springboard competition.   

Powell is the owner and founder of Professional Medical Services, a company that provides on-site EMS professionals for things like sporting events at a fraction of the cost of an ambulance. Powell said his company, which will be operational within the next several weeks, can save the public money while also improving health outcomes, as the on-site EMS teams will be able to administer immediate care.   

Powell said he worked with Amy Wright at Brownwood’s Small Business Development Center to create a business model before entering the Springboard Ideas Challenge. “So I’m a little ahead of the curve, in that respect,” he said.   

Although Professional Medical Services will be particularly helpful in rural areas with limited medical resources, Powell said, he also expects to operate successfully in metropolitan regions.   

Meanwhile, Harding has been working for years on a machine that automatically fills sandbags for use during flooding emergencies. The machine, which is built on a trailer and can be pulled to disaster sites, can fill bags many times faster than a human counterpart.   

“I have a complete, fully operational prototype,” Harding said. “It’s not ready for production. There’s a lot of changes that have to be made to improve the speed and reliability of the machine, but the first model of it is where you make that determination.”   

Harding said the idea came to him during a news broadcast where people were filling sandbags by hand. “When I see people manually filling bags, I think, ‘This is crazy,’” he said. “Even a bag of potato chips has been filled by a machine. Why should we be filling sandbags by hand?”   

On Feb. 12, ACU hosted a workshop for the advancing entrepreneurs to help them develop their business models. There are about eight teams or individuals remaining in the competition, including Harding and Powell.   

“The next presentation is going to be in Abilene on March 8 or 9,” Harding said. The contest organizers will select a final three ideas based on those presentations, with the winner announced in May.   

Harding said that even those who don’t win have the opportunity to meet investors and accumulate start-up funds for their projects, an invaluable opportunity.   

The Springboard Ideas Challenge is an initiative of ACU’s Griggs Center for Entrepreneurship and Philanthropy.