Remote, long-distance preparation no problem for Tiger Cage business idea competition finalists from California

Published: Mar 25, 2024 10:30 AM

By Joe McAdory

Tiger Cage finalists rarely travel from the Pacific coast to compete in Auburn University’s most prestigious student business pitch competition. But engineering online graduate students Holli Michaels and Courtney Montague, co-founders of AbGlo: Six Pack/Strong Back — a fitness device that corrects lumbar position during core strength exercises — flipped the script.

Michaels, two years into the college’s Master of Engineering Management (product innovation focus) program, and Montague, who recently earned a master’s degree in computer science and software engineering, are visiting from far away Santa Barbara, California, to pitch their product before industry professional judges in a six-team competition on Friday, March 29, where up to $80,000 in startup capital is at stake.

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In its 10th iteration, the Tiger Cage is presented by the Harbert College of Business and New Venture Accelerator.

Making the journey from California to compete on stage as a team is one thing. Preparing remotely — along with co-founder and health club owner Marianne Madsen, who was briefly living in Minnesota — is another.

“Pitching a business idea is challenging for many reasons, including content memorization,” said Michaels, who works as a senior design transfer engineer at Arthrex, a surgical orthopedic and imaging company. “We have been preparing from different states and time zones as we arrange Zoom calls with our Auburn mentors. They have been incredibly flexible, and we are so grateful for their understanding. It helped that we were able to do tech checks the day before rounds one and two to minimize technical and audio glitches. We have learned a lot about staying composed and energized through each round, showcasing our ability to adapt. These experiences should make pitching in person feel like a breeze.”

Montague and Michaels aren’t the only Auburn Engineering students aiming for Tiger Cage’s top prize. Five seniors in industrial and systems engineering — Alex Washburn, Jordan Snyder, Emily Glaze, Maddy McCutchin and Maddie Robinson — teamed to create Roller to Optimize Material Efficiency (ROME) – an innovative solution that addresses the labor-intensive and physically-tolling task of laying materials in diverse industries. Their flagship product, CowPaw, is an ergonomic device designed to streamline laying paper in poultry farms.

Also, Thomas Lester, a sophomore in industrial and systems engineering, teamed with Eugene Asante, a recent graduate in psychology and linebacker on the Auburn University football team, to create Earlybird, a single-use canned device capable of heating beverages faster that a Keurig.

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AbGlo, conceptualized in a Santa Barbara health club, won first place and $2,000 in last October’s Halloween Pitch Competition. What does it do?

The device utilizes a flexible sensor that triggers lights, vibration and optional audio feedback when pressed flat by the lumbar area through the engagement of core muscles. Bluetooth connectivity facilitates real-time communication of the user’s postural position. The team zeroed in on strengthening the transverse abdominus and pelvic floor muscles to significantly alleviate low back pain and improve fitness outcomes.

The device has evolved.

“Courtney helped code the first version of our app,” Michaels said. “Since the Halloween Pitch, she set up developer accounts on both the Apple store and Google Play store and is working with Marianne to create the best app to support her back rehabilitation clients.”

Feedback the team received from the New Venture Accelerator and entrepreneurs-in-residence has been instrumental in shaping its success.

“Looking back on where we started two years ago, I can confidently say that our success is a result of the collective effort and guidance we've received,” said Montague, a systems engineering manager at Northup Grumman. “Our journey began with little experience in pitching at business competitions, but the support from the New Venture Accelerator, College of Engineering, and the library has been pivotal. The invaluable feedback we received not only polished our presentation skills but also enhanced our technical content.

“(Entrepreneur-in-Residence) Scott McGlon's dedication to reviewing our presentations, providing guidance on flow, and offering candid feedback, along with (Entrepreneur-in-Residence) Dan O’Keefe’s expertise in economic business modeling, has been instrumental in preparing us for eventual outside investments as well as shaping our understanding of the future.”

She also credited entrepreneurs-in-residence Barry Thomasson and Bob Roblin, and economics librarian Jennilyn Wiley for providing them with a well-rounded entrepreneurship training program.

Michaels noted that lessons learned within the College of Engineering continue to pay dividends.

“My journey through the college, particularly in the world-class Engineering Management program, has enhanced my skills as an inventor, as well as in my day job as a mechanical,” she said. “The ability to study online and easily connect with my professors and classmates has enhanced my learning experience. (Associate professor in industrial and systems engineering) Mark Schall's Human Factors course was particularly captivating, leading me to pursue a Human Factors and Ergonomics graduate certificate in addition to my masters.

“Courses like Product Innovation, Product Launch, Manufacturing and Development, Human Factors, Lean Manufacturing, Engineering Economics, Engineering Management, and Cognitive Systems Analysis have all shaped my approach to product design and boosted my innovation skills. Furthermore, classes like Engineering Management and Cognitive Systems Analysis improved my leadership and communication abilities, complex system analysis skills, and making data-driven decision skills. This blend of technical, management, and business expertise has been the wind beneath the design of such a sophisticated product like AbGlo.”

The Tiger Cage final round kicks off Friday at 9 a.m. within Horton-Hardgrave Hall’s Broadway Event and Space Theater. Awards will be presented at 3:35 p.m.

Media Contact: Joe McAdory,, 334.844.3447
Holli Michaels and Courtney Montague, with California health club owner Marianne Madsen, co-founded AbGlo.

Holli Michaels and Courtney Montague, with California health club owner Marianne Madsen, co-founded AbGlo.

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