Computer Science Student Wins First Place in Entrepreneurship Competition

Kaylin Brassfield won for Crystal Game Works LLC at 2019 Mississippi New Venture Challenge

Kaylin Brassfield (right), a UM senior computer science major, accepts her first-place award in the Mississippi New Venture Challenge from Tasha Bibb, director of entrepreneurial development at Innovate Mississippi. Submitted photo by Rebecca Harris/Innovate Mississippi

A senior computer and information science major at the University of Mississippi won first place in the student competition at the 2019 Mississippi New Venture Challenge.

Kaylin Brassfield of Hernando pitched Crystal Game Works LLC, a company she created, which develops story-driven video games and graphic novels for a young female market. The company has already released 20 games with over 35,000 downloads.

Brassfield, who is also a student assistant in the UM Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, was presented a $3,000 prize from Spartan Mosquito. She also received additional seed funding of $1,500 from the Rebel Venture Capital Fund.

“I was surprised that I got first place, but honored,” said Brassfield, who transferred to UM from Northwest Mississippi Community College. “The competition was statewide, so I was able to watch and learn from entrepreneurs both new and more experienced. It was a great experience overall, and I was able to meet many interesting people.”

The annual pitch competition, which took place on Oct. 3 at the Clyde Muse Center in Pearl, drew over 30 competing startup founders who gave pitches attended by entrepreneurs, investors and mentors who are part of Mississippi’s entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Brassfield said her company started out as a part-time hobby in high school. Upon entering college, she realized she wanted to do it full time.

“I started working towards making commercial games to sell so that there would be a chance I could do it full time after college,” she said. “Naturally, I decided to do computer science with the School of Engineering, and it just clicked.”

Brassfield was walking around campus and found a sign advertising a business pitch competition. She knew what she was doing was technically a business, so she signed up.

“I didn’t get past the first round, but I went to the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who organized the competition, and they helped me build up my idea further than I ever could have done alone,” she said.

Crystal Game Works won the student category for story-driven games aimed at young women. Submitted screen capture courtesy of Crystal Game Works LLC

Brassfield’s achievement is a shared celebration, said UM faculty and administrators.

“We immediately recognized she had the talent and potential to accomplish great things in her entrepreneurial pursuits,” said Dawn Wilkins, chair and professor of computer and information science. “Kaylin has been very active in the computer science student organization and even organized a student group to develop video games.”

“Kaylin has made tremendous progress with her venture,” said Clay Dibrell, endowed chair in entrepreneurship, professor of management and co-director of the CIE. “We appreciate Dr. Wilkins and her colleagues for providing Kaylin with the necessary computer and people skills to be successful.”

Brassfield plans to spend a fair amount of her prize money toward promoting her business.

“Some of the funds will also go towards general game development, such as paying for other writers and for music in the games,” she said.

“Mississippi New Venture Challenge gives us an opportunity to see some new companies and to give some more familiar startups an opportunity to pitch when there is money on the line,” said Tony Jeff, president and CEO of Innovate Mississippi, which produced the competition. “It’s gratifying to see the work these companies put in, and the experience they gain is invaluable.”

Founders and executives from each competing company had just 10 minutes to pitch their startup to the judges by explaining their product or service, projecting their revenues and communicating what makes them unique. The founders then took questions from judges in a two-minute lightning round; the next presenters then hit the stage with less than 60 seconds to prep.

“We hope participants found value in each part of the process – from working one-on-one with a mentor to going through the exercise of developing a succinct but effective presentation,” said Tasha Bibb, director of entrepreneurial development for Innovate Mississippi. “Our goal is to offer several opportunities for growth.”

“It was wonderful hearing the pitches from such a diverse set of businesses,” said Jim Lowery, managing director of strategy for mTrade, who was a judge in the Post-Revenue category. “Although very different in their respective markets, they all feature a founder with a vision to solve a specific problem and create a company while doing it.”

The winners at the 2019 New Venture Challenge will be invited to attend the Accelerate 2019 conference taking place Nov. 12-13 at the Westin Jackson, and receive additional recognition during the luncheon on Nov. 13.

Portions of this story were originally published by Innovate Mississippi.