Bryan Davis is the managing director of Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the program director of GVL Starts.

Bryan Davis is the managing director of Furman Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the program director of GVL Starts.

They are a cohort first, not competitors. Large groups of grown-ups don’t dress in matching shirts unless they play professional sports or legitimately feel like part of a team.

When the GVL STARTS crew showed up at NEXT Venture Pitch wearing “Entrepreneur” t-shirts, you couldn’t miss them. Not just because of the shirts. Because of their energy. They were in attendance to learn, strategize, prepare for their own turn on stage.

Dionne Sandiford

Thursday, select members of the first cohort at Furman University’s Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship participated in “Demo Day,” a pitch competition to win a $5,000 grant to grow their startup.

GVL STARTS is a unique, hands-on curriculum led by professors and successful entrepreneur mentors. The curriculum assists founders in developing and executing their business models to spur growth and prepare them to seek funding.

This is where the cohort, not competitors, part is key. In the final round, entrepreneurs displayed their products side-by-side, some even sharing tables. The comradery was clear. As was the cheering for each other.

The product and services winner was Dionne Sandiford, owner of Corporate Stitch. Dionne invented an easy-to-clean and transport product that covers a mattress or sleeping mat and has a built-in blanket and pillowcase for day care centers, disaster relief kits, and children on the go. (She also embroidered the “From Here You Can Change the World” ballcaps. We’re big fans.)

Eric Cooperman

And let’s raise our glass to the software and tech winner Eric Cooperman. Founder of Bottle Titan, Cooperman created an intelligent beverage-monitoring product to address a multi-billion-dollar spoilage problem for wine consumers, high-end wine collectors and commercial suppliers/producers, and the beverage supply chain.

Jennifer Spears

Last, but certainly not least, Jennifer Spears and African Violet were voted the crowd favorite as everyone in attendance invested their own (Monopoly) money to pick a third winner. African Violet offers affordable solutions for self-care and stress relief through massage therapy, herbal teas, and herbal bath products.

Truth is, they’re all winners here. The opportunity to network. To showcase. To practice a pitch. It’s where the magic happens. Where the ideas are put into action.

Beth Brotherton is the Director of Communications for the City of Greenville.