Kai McKinney explaining his Powerpoint presentation

Kai McKinney is a thriving entrepreneur — and he hasn’t even graduated college yet.

The industrial design major created his software program, Helm, for the 2019 Best of Student Startups (BOSS) competition, a semester-long contest at Ohio State that puts more than 40 student startup teams through workshops and pitch presentations. Hosted by the Tim and Kathleen Keenan Center for Entrepreneurship  at Ohio State, top teams at the end of each semester are awarded funding to launch their ventures.

After winning the 2019 BOSS competition, McKinney took his product to market nearly a year later. And sales are already streaming in.    

“Helm is a team management software that helps managers, especially those with virtual and growing teams, to surface insights from their employees,” he said.

And his story of success is not unique.

Kai McKinney
Kai McKinney

Jessica Hook, Jax Diaz-Miranda and Emily Bethhauser, finalists of the 2018 competition, continue to grow a business they created through BOSS. Faci Beauty, LLC upcycles brewed coffee grounds into exfoliating espresso bar soaps. The idea was born when Hook (BSBA ’20) noticed how many grounds were going to waste while she was working in a local coffee shop.

“The three of us decided it was a big problem in the community,” she said. “We were really passionate about it.”

Their creative product would never have materialized if not for BOSS.

“When we were first mulling over ideas, we didn't have a finalized concept at all, but we knew that we wanted to participate in the BOSS competition,” Miranda said. “It gave us a goal.”

After winning the 2018 BOSS competition, the team entered more startup competitions where they earned additional capital to grow Faci. They currently have a manufacturing partnership and are slated to go to market with two new bar soaps in the early months of 2021.

The trio sees Faci as defining their professional future, which they see as very bright.

“It’s fun to work with your friends,” said Miranda (BSBA ’19).

Three students outside on a fall day
Emily Bethhauser (left), Jax Miranda (BSBA ’19) ​​​​and Jessica Hook (BSBA ’20)

For Bethhauser, an accounting major who will graduate in May 2021, the BOSS competition expanded the resources available to the team as student entrepreneurs.

“It opens you up to so many opportunities at Ohio State,” she said. “We were able to talk to so many different faculty, and our network at Ohio State just exploded.”

Jake Cohen, a program director at the Keenan Center, said the four goals of the competition include a greater understanding of how to start after having a business idea, expanding professional networks, fostering peer-to-peer relationships and gaining knowledge about the Keenan Center and other campus resources related to entrepreneurship.

“The Keenan Center stays connected with many of the startup teams and students who go through the BOSS program,” Cohen said.  “BOSS alumni often serve as judges and mentors to teams in the program.”  

As a former winner, McKinney returned for the 2020 competition as a judge. He was a voice in deciding this year’s winning business pitch: Transfer Base, a company that provides tools to help technology-based organizations discover and efficiently access valuable university research and researchers in order to increase their revenue through new products, services and business lines.

“It really was a great thing to be a part of and I was grateful to able to come full circle that way,” McKinney said.