Seven judges, seven teams of Oregon Tech students, and multiple hours of preparation will all come together in May as students vie for a $15,000 cash prize from Catalyze Klamath, an entrepreneurial pitch competition.

But first, students participating in the Fourth annual Catalyze Klamath competition tested their project’s mettle with a panel of “Shark Tech” judges Wednesday.

“Shark Tech”, modeled after the entrepreneurial television show “Shark Tank”, features a wide variety of project this year from students on concepts such as tiny house manufacturing, micro-malting for beer production, an internal wind turbine and a mobile pool vacuum.

Oregon Tech student Jimmy Finch and his team — which includes students Jennifer Berdyugin, Kelsey Sampson, Reece Ishiyara, Miles Taylor, Jacob Thompson, Keith Omogrosso, and Eric Pahl — presented their proposal to manufacture micro-malters for the beer industry.

The group built a 10 1/2-foot tall prototype malter with funding from an Oregon State University Extension grant in 2016 for the project, a project Finch described as a one-of-a-kind horizontal barrel with an automated system that malts grain.

Funding through the Catalyze Klamath competition would mean the ability to buy more equipment and kick-start the business.

“It could also help us start the patent process, if we choose to go that route,” Finch said.

Finch plans to graduate with a degree in renewable energy engineering in 2018, with hopes the team will manufacture malters in Klamath Falls.

“Klamath would obviously be the best place, mostly because of the amount of manufacturing students at Oregon Tech,” Finch said. “It’d be fantastic to offer jobs from somebody straight out of school.”

Finch and other students presented to a panel of judges, including Kat Rutledge, executive director of the Small Business Development Center. Each team tested its business acumen through their proposal Wednesday, with questions from inquisitive judges representing the economic development, education and business industries.

Finch said the team will now work on finalizing cost estimates for their proposal, as well as details such as graphics in their presentation in order to prepare for a final presentation in May.

“Catalyze (Klamath) presents a beautiful opportunity particularly for those students already working on a concept,” Rutledge said.

Rutledge regularly advises entreprenuers on their projects as head of the SBDC, and treated her role on the judging panel in much the same way, asking tough questions of the students to find real-world solutions.

“You have to clearly define the problem you’re going to solve,” Rutledge said. “Clearly define your solution to the problem. Tell us who you’re going to sell it to. They really need to know what it will take to get that launched.”

Hallie Neupert, interim dean of engineering, technology, and management, and Lita Colligan, associate vice president of strategic partnerships and government, oversee the contest. Assistant Professor of Management Mark Ahalt serves as lead faculty advisor to participants.

“We talk about hands-on applied education,” Neupert said. “We’re asking them to think about what their product would look like in our local economy.”

The Catalyze Klamath competition is sponsored by former legislators Gail and Doug Whitsett, Gaucho Collective, Klamath County Economic Development Association (KCEDA), Klamath Inspire Development – Energize Acceleration, Oregon BEST, city of Klamath Falls, Klamath County, Black Canyon Woodworks, Avista, and the Herald and News.