The John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge, hosted by the University of Montana College of Business and the Blackstone Launchpad, will hear pitches from 12 aspiring entrepreneurs with business ideas that range from a video game haven to an app that provides dating advice.

“I think it’s a nice, diverse mix. We’ve got some technology and food- and beverage-related ideas, which the public always likes,” said Paul Gladen, director of UM’s Blackstone Launchpad.

About 50 judges will hear each participant’s pitch and provide feedback, with another presentation following for the public to vote on their favorite business ideas as participants compete for over $50,000 in prize money.

Other business ideas include manufacturing jackets out of milkweed, offering smoothie cubes with nutritional benefits and providing a multichannel network to connect female founders with resources to supplement their professional and educational goals.

“We’re really looking for evidence of the teams who have really done work to see if their idea could be successful,” Gladen said.

Taylor Margot was selected to pitch his live app Scry Chat Inc., which allows dating app users to easily get advice or suggestions from friends by sharing their app account profiles and conversations.

The company is Missoula-based, and the app has been available for download for about a month.

“Scry Chat is a means for people to date in the 21st century while receiving advice from their friends about those interactions,” Margot said. “Dating in the digital age has become an exhibition through texting and/or dating apps, and a lot of initial interactions are through that exact medium.”

According to Margot, about 94 percent of dating app users are uncertain about what they should say to a match, while 75 percent of users have either delayed sending a message or have not sent one because they didn’t know what to say. It’s all about boosting confidence, he said.

“That’s a real problem because to go from a dating app to a relationship, you have to literally progress through the text conversation portion of it. If people are getting hung up, you can’t progress these relationships, which sort of undermines the point of the dating app in the first place,” Margot said.

The app is in its beginning stages, and with prize money in hand, Margot said it would be used for marketing and improving app functionality. The app also allows friends to identify possible dangerous situations among users, and in the future, may be able to offer advice by relationship experts.

“What Scry Chat does, is it creates a record and it allows your friends to notice or observe if there’s something out of the ordinary or something that concerns them,” he said.

The business also employs two full-time engineers, a dating app expert and undergraduate students at UM. It’s too early to know if the app will proactively help users, as it’s a work in progress.

With more than 140 million people using dating apps and over half of people surveyed in America considering dating apps as an acceptable way to meet people, Margot hopes that Scry Chat can help relationships progress.

“We’re striving to provide some context and some three dimension to that experience by bringing your friends in,” he said. “That’s a very different experience than dating has historically been where people meet face-to-face.”

The competition begins at 5 p.m. at the Music Recital Hall of UM’s Music Building on March 8, 2019. Student admission is free, and tickets can be purchased on the event’s website.