Chera Howard places second in Tiger Cage Pitch Competition

College of Agriculture student Chera Howard placed second in a competition that started with 21 student-led business startups competing for $80,000 in seed funding.

The 2024 Tiger Cage Business Pitch Competition concluded on March 29 when the six teams who advanced to the final round presented their business plans to industry professional judges in the Broadway Event Space and Theater located in Horton-Hardgrave Hall.

Mammoth Super Sod, led by Howard, placed second and secured $15,000 in startup capital. Mammoth Super Sod is a natural grass that can stand up to drought, contains an efficient irrigation system that can reduce up to 70% in water usage, serve as a fire barrier for homes, and produce safer sod for players. The environmental benefits of super sod include carbon sequestration, oxygen production, groundwater replenishment and pollutant filtration.

Howard worked under the guidance of Associate Professor and Alabama Extension Specialist David Han.

“Chera and I designed experiments to get her different hair-based products — the mats, powders, etc — tested on our turf research plots,” Han said. “Those results — especially the photos, videos, and an actual sample of the roots we were able to grow using her product — were key to her pitch in Tiger Cage. The research also made Chera want to pursue her Master of Agriculture, with me as her advisor.”

According to Han, Howard has several products, all based on hair she collected from African-American barber shops. She makes it into mats that can be installed under sod and also a product that can be incorporated into the soil or applied on the top of turf.

“We tested all of those last summer but especially the mats and soil-incorporated formulation, and they really increased growth and increased drought tolerance,” Han said. “The piece of turf she brought in to the finals, showing massively increased root growth even after the winter, was a big hit with the judges.”

Tiger Cage — modeled after the ABC television series Shark Tank — is presented by the Harbert College of Business. The final six teams were given 15 minutes to pitch their ideas and 15 minutes for Q&A. Teams were questioned by judges on financials, market shares, product availability, etc. To support their business plans, the 2024 Tiger Cage competition provided startup capital to all teams that placed in the final six, including two special awards.

Mammoth SuperSod was also the recipient of one of these awards: the Burr & Forman legal services in-kind award in the amount of $5,000.

“The Tiger Cage Competition has helped me improve my marketing strategy by 100% as well as improve my presentation abilities,” Howard said. “Participation in the competition has groomed me to become a more effective analytical thinker in response to questions. I am now better able to address market research, understand my target audience, and leverage various strategies to reach and engage them.”

Opening the event was alumnus Mark Forchette, the original driving force behind the creation of Tiger Cage, which has now completed its 10th year.

“Tiger Cage was a concept I floated in a Deans Advisory Council meeting in 2014 because I recognized through my Silicon Valley start-up experience that the skills you need as an entrepreneur are unique and require intense development,” Forchette said. “I felt it was essential to intensify our training for students on best-in-class entrepreneurial processes so they would be ready for the world they would compete in after graduation.”


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Apr 5, 2024 | Feature, Student Spotlight

<p><a href="" target="_self">Kristen Bowman</a></p>

Kristen Bowman

Kristen Bowman is a communications and marketing specialist with the College of Agriculture. She received her bachelor's degree in journalism from Auburn University and loves reading and spending time with her husband and two children.

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