Buck’s Custom Slings earns $10,000 with winning pitch at Summer Launch

Forty-four student startups have reached new heights with UGA Entrepreneurship’s Summer Launch program since its inception
Buck's Custom Slings
Lee Evans and Maddy Heck of Buck’s Custom Slings

Just in time for football season, University of Georgia senior Lee Evans and business partner and recent hospitality graduate Maddy Heck took home $10,000 from UGA Entrepreneurship’s Summer Launch to boost the production of Buck’s Customs Slings.

The slings — imagine a Koozie on a lanyard — allow revelers to carry their beverage of choice while rooting on the Dawgs hands free. After a successful launch last fall, the duo sold more than 3,400 slings, generating $33,000 in revenue. Their hustle was enough to impress the Summer Launch judges and win a $10,000 investment for their fledgling company.   

“It’s pretty clear to all the judges that you guys have put some blood, sweat and tears into this thing,” said Summer Launch judge Mark Drever (MBA ’04), president and CEO of Xcelerate Solutions.

Evans, who is set to graduate in spring 2024 with a degree in communications studies, and Heck, who graduated in May 2023 with a degree in hospitality management, plan to use the prize money to expand their inventory of football-themed slings into new college town markets this fall. The hope, Heck said, is selling on game days in Tuscaloosa and Auburn will also generate more orders for their customized event slings.

Summer Launch is the last stage of UGA Entrepreneurship’s multi-tier approach to fostering and developing student businesses. Teams were given $2,500 in seed funding and one-on-one guidance to get them to the point where they were bringing in revenue. For Buck’s Custom Slings, that meant increasing sales by 65% over the past five weeks.

Cali Brutz, program organizer and associate director of the UGA Entrepreneurship Program, told the Summer Launch crowd that each student company starting Summer Launch this year ended the program generating revenue.

“Every single one of our teams has something right — they’re going to be walking away having created something,” Brutz said. “And no matter the outcome tonight, I hope they are empowered by the knowledge that they have the ability to start with nothing and create something.”

Since its inception, 44 teams participated in the Summer Launch Accelerator, and 56% of those businesses still operate today, Brutz added. On average, only 10% of businesses last more than three years.

In addition to the Buck’s Custom Slings, judges recognized Pool Protection Technologies — an ultrasonic pool cleaning technology — with second place. Pool Protection Technologies was founded by UGA engineering students Garrett Stigall and Guy Gober.

Effingo, a specialty car parts provider founded by UGA psychology student Caleb King, took third place.

UGA Entrepreneurship pitch contest newcomers Alex Boulogne, management student and founder of small business marketing firm Digital Pioneers, and recent graduates Hailey Garfinkel and Tyler Lewis, founders of Hailey’s Healthy Hangout, a digital networking and resource hub for neurodivergent individuals, also presented.

Volunteer judges for the 2023 Summer Launch program included Drever; Mike Thompson (BBA ’99), managing member at Reinvent Capital; Hugh Tarbutton (BBA ’86) and Mark Murray (BBA ’90), principals at Fire Pit Capital; Armistead Whitney (ABJ ’91), CEO of cybersecurity firm Apptega; and Brian Betzel (BBA ’01), founder of business consultancy Commniscient.

The mission of the UGA Entrepreneurship Program is to develop the mindset of future entrepreneurs and prepare students for business leadership roles. UGA Entrepreneurship Program accelerators are open to UGA students and Athens community members.