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An idea launched in 2013 at the University of South Carolina took home the top prize at Wednesday’s Ignite! Ideas Contest.

University of South Carolina student Vincent Felix won $5,000 to support his startup, Mr. Penguin Designs, over two other finalists. The big reveal was made Wednesday night during the annual celebration of entrepreneurship and innovation at the new USC Alumni Center.

Local business and education leaders attended, tweeted about the startups’ presentations and voted for their favorite throughout the evening.

Mr. Penguin Designs gives cellphone users a unique way to express themselves with one-of-a-kind protective cases. Felix partners with local artists who create fresh designs, and he found a retail partner in Comporium.

“We’ve been working incredibly hard for the last two and a half years,” Felix said. “This shows if you don’t give up … something good will happen.”

Felix said the concept of Mr. Penguin Designs — to help student artists gain exposure to their work while also providing them with residual income — began in 2013. Felix was a sophomore at USC and noticed the lack of different and individualized options for phone cases. After seeing the creative potential in his artistic friends, Felix got to work on his startup.Ten percent of the proceeds from each case sold now go back to the artist.

“It’s about giving back to them,” Felix said of the artists.

Felix plans to use the $5,000 Ignite! award to boost his marketing campaign. The company will collaborate with USC student media to reach more students and people beyond the Midlands.

Though not everyone went home with a novelty-size check, people were inspired by the story of another Columbia entrepreneur. Ramone Dickerson and Corey Simmons of 2 Fat 2 Fly were among the guest speakers and shared their story from the first stuffed chicken wing to the restaurant they now own.

Simmons and Dickerson said support from the community played a significant role in their success. Simmons recalled the early days were tough but said “as long as we had wings in the cooler, we were OK.”

EngenuitySC Executive Director Meghan Hickman said businesses like those represented at Ignite! are what makes the Midlands a force in economic competitiveness.

“We have incredible things to come ahead of us,” she said.

The next Midlands Regional Competitiveness Report from EngenuitySC is due out soon.

Categories: Business, Local News

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