At the Cultivate.CAFLS Showdown Competition, Kayla Jackson not only saved the best for last; she did it as a solo act.

In front of a packed house in Clemson University’s Watt Innovation Center auditorium, the senior agribusiness major delivered the last of seven entrepreneur project presentations by College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences students to a panel of distinguished judges, and she walked away with top honors despite being the only individual inventor against a field comprised of six other teams.

Mentored by Plant and Environmental Sciences horticulture lecturer Ellen Vincent on her self-watering planter project, Jackson, a horticulture minor from Rock Hill, S.C., was awarded the $3,000 grand prize for her project for its continued development.

The inaugural Cultivate.CAFLS event, held March 29, was open to individuals or teams with at least half of the membership enrolled in a major within CAFLS, designed to help participants develop their product and skills to turn it into a reality.

“Each project is unique, but they are all connected by one thing: agriculture,” said emcee Stephanie Sox from the South Carolina Farm Bureau. “These products showcase just how new age agriculture really is. It’s more than just sows, cows and plows. Agriculture is the No. 1 industry in South Carolina, and it supports over 212,000 jobs, only around 10 percent are farmers. Agribusiness encompasses everything from the farm to the forks and all the steps in between.”

Jackson explained her project, a self-watering planter she invented, dubbed Performance Pots, had been designed to combat three primary reasons house plants die: overwatering, underwatering and girdling roots that form the root ball.

With that in mind, Jackson set out to develop a planter that encourages plant growth by having an inside pot to retain water, thus encouraging the plant roots to reach for the water in the inside pot and allowing for consistent moisture in the soil for the plant to thrive in.

“There is an interior pot that, when you water your plant, will catch and store water so your plant consistently has something to strive for and your roots reach toward that water versus girdling around the pot,” she said. “There are also holes in the bottom of the exterior pot that allow for excess water drainage, so you don’t drown your plant.”

Jackson explained that standard flowerpots only have the holes in the bottom, which drains off excess water once the soil is soaked, whereas her patent-pending hydration innovation incorporates a catchment for additional water beyond what the soil can absorb.

Jackson with project

Senior agribusiness major Kayla Jackson demonstrates her Performance Pots entrepreneur project at the Cultivate.CAFLS Showdown Competition on March 29 in Clemson University’s Watt Innovation Center.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“You don’t want a dry plant, so you always have to have water,” she said. “So, you can go on vacation and leave your plant, and know that it will be fine because you have that pot there to catch that water. The benefit of a Performance Pot is you’re going to consistently have water for the roots to reach for — so no more watering when you go out of town.”

Vincent lauded Jackson as being “positive, focused and innovative” in her work on the project.

“She beautifully blended her horticulture minor class knowledge with her agriculture business major experience to create a potentially marketable product,” Vincent said.

Second place went to the Ice Cream Personality App, which developed a new web and mobile-based app to collect consumer data on potential flavor trends that could be used to develop new ice cream flavors.

Mentored by Food, Nutrition and Packaging Sciences professor John McGregor, the team was made up of students Danielle Balentine, Zachary Floyd, Brendan Gillan, Benjamin Howard, Megan Mars, Taylor May, Rachel Motro and Kay Senn.

Finishing third was Higher Manna, a project that involves cultivating a mushroom-based food product from farm to market. Mentored by Andrew Hurley, the team was comprised of Sam Kessler, Brian Hurley, Courtney Steward, Jessica Martin and Anna Ogletree.

The fourth-place team, Smoothie Bowls, was also mentored by McGregor and made up of students Hunter Clayton, Amy Grace Funcik, Elena Gaidouske, Delaney Greiner, Lindsey Jenkinson, Marianna Painter, Emily Peters, Maddie Waskiewicz and Katherine Smith.

The team developed a prototype for a new and unique fresh fruit smoothie bowl-type food product what would be formulated and packaged for large-scale commercial distribution.

The People’s Choice Award, voted on by the audience, went to Living Seed Ark, a germplasm collection of plants grown together, adapted to the local environment. The purpose is to preserve local variability and provide seed to anyone who is interested in locally adapted plants.

Mentored by Paula Agudelo and Steve Kresovich, the team was comprised of Chandler Adams, Brian Braughman, Mary-Frances Behnke, Jameson Bodenheimer, Claire Bunes, Wilson McDonald, John Nisbet, Katie Pimental and Kendall Schmidth.

Winner with check

Kayla Jackson is awarded the $3,000 first prize for the continued development of her project as the winner of the Cultivate.CAFLS Showdown Competition by John Hannon, director of Clemson’s Arthur M. Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership.
Image Credit: Clemson University Relations

“The College of Agriculture, Forestry and Life Sciences is very proud of all the students who participated in the inaugural Cultivate.CAFLS Entrepreneurial Initiative,” said Jean Bertrand, CAFLS associate dean for undergraduate studies and organizer of the initiative. “All the presentations were outstanding and showcased their tremendous talents and hard work. We are also indebted to the faculty who gave their time and expertise to mentor the 53 students who participated.”

John Hannon, director of Clemson’s Arthur M. Spiro Institute for Entrepreneurial Leadership, said the partnership between CAFLS and the Spiro Institute was epitomized in many ways by the ingenuity of the students on display at the event.

Launched more than 20 years ago with a gift of $1.5 million by Mr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Spiro, the Spiro Institute is a thriving unit on campus with academic, research and service programs that incorporate students and faculty from all colleges on campus.

“What you have is these amazingly bright students who do amazing work and who are actually making things — they were making food, they were making pottery and so on — and what was particularly exciting was there were so many freshmen,” Hannon said. “Think about that, they were just in high school nine months ago or whatever the case may be, and now they’re in front of this room shining like stars.

“And the courage of Kayla to get up there alone. That takes a lot of courage to get up there and believe in herself and believe in this product.”