Gwen Plouzek sat in the audience at last year’s Network Globally, Act Locally pitch competition and never dreamed she could be one of those entrepreneurs describing how their product could change the world.

“I was terrified to be on stage,” said Plouzek, a Nebraska Wesleyan University junior from Lincoln.

On Friday, she and Stacie Skaff beat eight other college teams from Lincoln, South Carolina and Estonia to win $3,000 toward further development of their startup company, SipSafe.

Unlike flashy solutions that have grabbed headlines -- a fingernail polish that changes colors if certain drugs are present in a drink or a coaster that signals the presence of drugs -- SipSafe is establishing itself at the nexus of basic science and intuitive design.

Integrated into a stirring stick, SipSafe uses a novel detection method to test for ketamine, Rohypnol and GHB with a whirl through the drink, changing colors if drugs are found.

Plouzek said she came up with the idea talking with her mom about the need for a reliable, discreet test.

On Friday, judges said they felt the business could be successful despite the fact neither Plouzek nor Skaff has experience in making a financing plan or marketing a product.

“We were thinking about how our science backgrounds could be applicable,” Plouzek said. “We wanted something that would detect date rape drugs -- that was the core -- but we were asking why hadn’t anything like this been done.”

Their intuition was right, and earlier this year Plouzek and Skaff filed for a patent on the approach they developed in labs at Wesleyan and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

After winning Wesleyan’s Quick Pitch Competition, they entered the Network Globally, Act Locally contest, a partnership between Wesleyan, the College of Charleston in South Carolina and the University of Tartu in Estonia.

Envisioned a decade ago by Wesleyan alumnus and Syracuse native Harry Huge, the intensive three-week experience puts hopeful student entrepreneurs in contact with startup experts to develop and refine their ideas.

Students spent 10 days in the University of Tartu’s Idea Lab before returning to the Silicon Prairie Sunday to create the 4-minute pitches they gave Friday morning to a panel of five judges.

“We’ve been thrown into the mix, especially the last three weeks, and we’ve just rolled with the punches, thought on our feet and learned as much as we can,” said Skaff, a senior from Norfolk.

Plouzek and Skaff took the top prize over a host of other businesses that aim to do everything from improve a bar experience to provide a better networking experience for professionals.

For example, third-place finisher Patch Financial was created by Wesleyan MBA student Jared Carlson, who seeks to build a mechanism for businesses to provide small loans to their employees allowing them to bypass predatory payday lenders.

Carlson said 11 companies have signed on to beta test his product, which is geared toward the restaurant, hotel and construction industries.

Another Wesleyan project, Grocery n’ Go, started by Arlie Myers and Taylor Monks, uses beacon technology to help shoppers navigate grocery stores more effectively, while also trying to predict what shoppers may want to buy based on past trips to the store. It's being tested at stores here in Lincoln.

Other companies, like second-place finisher Konku, an Estonian company, use web and mobile platforms to eliminate the need for brokers between landlords and their lessees, as well as the fees they collect from European renters; while RodBug, created by Austin Abt of the College of Charleston, attaches a motion-tracking device to a fishing rod to measure nibbles and bites, sending a slew of data to a cellphone through a Bluetooth connection.

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Plouzek and Skaff said they tried to compensate for their lack of business experience through hard work and the confidence that they have a great product in development.

“We work in the lab together, so we’d be doing lab work and saying our pitch or driving over to the lab and going through our pitch,” Plouzek said. “Whenever we have time, we’ve been filling it with business.”

Skaff said the two learning from the experts they met through the competition and through other students in the program.

“One of the other teams told us they learned more in these three weeks than they did all year in the classroom,” she said. “You learn so much by doing it hands-on.”

Skaff said she is looking at possibly enrolling in a business class at Wesleyan this fall.

“I think it could be fun,” she said.

Both will continue to focus on SipSafe and hope to eventually begin selling their stirring sticks in bulk to colleges as well as provide dispensers that could be located in bar restrooms.

Huge, a successful Charleston attorney who through the Harry & Reba Huge Foundation formed the Network Globally, Act Locally pitch competition in a handshake deal with Jaak Aaviksoo, a politician and education leader in Estonia in 2006, said two more universities are set to join the program: the Citadel in South Carolina and the Tallinn University of Technology in Estonia.

The beauty of the program, Huge said, is that each year brings something new -- including some opportunities to get involved with some good ideas at an early stage, like those he saw on Friday.

“As a matter of fact, I’m going to think long and hard about a couple I think are really good,” he said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7120 or cdunker@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @ChrisDunkerLJS.

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