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VIP Hard Seltzer Takes the Crown at UCF’s 2023 Joust New Venture Competition

A trio of UCF College of Business seniors — Connor Huseman, Nicholas Martins, Mazen Youness — won the 2023 Joust New Venture Competition on Thursday at the Celeste Hotel. Their company, VIP Hard Seltzer, is a first-of-its kind competitor in the hard seltzer marketplace that features collagen protein and appeals to health-conscious consumers.

The unique combination of components has enabled VIP Hard Seltzer to outclass other products in the market, with a 7% alcohol content in a 12-ounce can, while retaining a more crisp and flavorful experience.

“We had nearly 50 applications at the start of this process and are incredibly proud of VIP Hard Seltzer and our other finalists for all the hard work they put into their startups and presentations for each step of the Joust,” says Cameron Ford, director of the UCF Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. “All four finalists were highly regarded amongst our judges and the competition was incredibly close. For that, the students should be very proud of themselves as our judge’s panel was packed full of high-ranking professionals from some of the biggest names in their respective industries.”

Similar to NBC’s Shark Tank, the four teams pitched to a panel of five judges, including Jessica Blume ’80 (retired vice chairman, Deloitte), Sean Hayes ’95 (chief arketing officer, Voloridge Investment Management), Laurette Koellner ’77 (retired president, Boeing), Barry Miller ’95 (president, Voloridge Investment Management) and Kevin Miller (president and CEO, Addition Financial).

The Joust is UCF’s annual premier startup showcase event, hosted by the UCF College of Business’ Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, and is open to students of all majors. Competitors present their models for a viable business venture and compete to win money and other resources to pursue their venture. This event celebrates student entrepreneurs, introduces them to community leaders and provides key resources to help launch their ventures.

VIP Hard Seltzer was one of four finalists that emerged from a semifinal pool of 16 companies and was awarded $12,000 as champion. Joining the seltzer company in the finals was Certusa AI (Arash Raftari) in second place, Hire Match (Justin Press) in third place and PostFlight (Tyler Worrall) in fourth place.

PostFlight, a mobile app that connects pilots to share flight time and reduce training costs as well as their carbon footprint, earned $7,000 as runner-up.

Hire Match, which helps companies incorporate applicant tracking systems into their hiring process to prevent the increasing percentage of under-qualified job applicants that make it through hiring systems, earned $4,000 for its third-place finish.

Certusa AI finished fourth and earned $2,000 for a state-of-the-art AI technology that evaluates the value and risk of life insurance policies based on the policyholder and provider information.

The 2023 Joust New Venture Competition was made possible by in-kind sponsors SeacoastBank, Orlando Business Journal, The Orlando Law Group PL, and Think Integrated.