Two student entrepreneurs receive awards for innovation

Contact: Samantha Hooker

KALAMAZOO, Mich.─Two student entrepreneurs from Western Michigan University are being recognized for their innovative business ideas.

George Joshua, a graduate student from Kalamazoo studying behavioral analysis, received the $10,000 Brian Patrick Thomas Entrepreneurial Spirit Award for Turtle Jump Technology.

In addition, Brennan Vaughn, a senior from Mattawan majoring in sales and business marketing, received the $5,000 Wendell Christoff Award for SnapDuct.

Photo of WMu graduate student George Joshua.

George Joshua

Turtle Jump Technology

Turtle Jump Technology is a software development company focused on building applications for the fields of behavior analysis and behavioral psychology. The company aims to advance technology in the field of applied behavior analysis to ease the responsibilities of clinicians and help their clients succeed. Their first product, CE Lock, a mobile application used by clinicians to track their continuing education credits, is currently available on Google Play and in the Apple App store.

Joshua utilized his engineering degree by honing his skills as a business analyst for more than nine years, consulting with and developing custom software for companies. In 2017, he began working towards obtaining a master's degree in applied behavior analysis. In partnership with his wife Karyn, who holds an master's degree in applied behavior analysis and was recently board certified, Joshua began the work of building technology systems to solve real world challenges for behavior analysts and psychologists.

"Behavior analysis is a relatively new area of psychology that has experienced massive growth recently, due mainly to the emergence of autism," explains Joshua. "Although the field is growing rapidly, practitioners and clients lack technology specific to their needs. We hope to use the resources that Starting Gate provides, including access to a talented pool of mentors and tools to guide our growing business. This award is very meaningful because it allows us to continue to build new products as we seek out new customers."

Photo of WMU senior Brennan Vaughn.

Brennan Vaughn


SnapDuct is easy-to-install ductwork using a connector that joins both ductwork ends with a clip or latch system and an internal gasket that will seal the duct joint. This modernized approach would replace the current method of sealing ductwork using aluminum tape or resin and would greatly reduce the installation time needed on job sites, benefitting both contractors and consumers.

"Hanging duct work right now is the longest process for any heating, ventilation, and air conditioning installer. On an average-size home, it can take four to six days with the current process," explains Vaughn. SnapDuct's coupling attachment has the possibility of cutting installation time in half, or better.

Vaughn grew up learning the ropes at his father's HVAC company and eventually spent five years working part-time at the Mattawan-based company, Mattawan Mechanical. His father helped him brainstorm possible improvements in the industry, and Vaughn began cultivating his idea with Starting Gate.

"Our next steps are to use the college of engineering resources to further product development and designs. We plan to identify potential customers by attending trade shows and visiting job sites," he says.

Brian Patrick Thomas Entrepreneurial Spirit Award

Now in its fifth year, the Brian Patrick Thomas Entrepreneurial Spirit Award recognizes businesses that aim to promote a higher social purpose. It is awarded annually to a company from Starting Gate, WMU’s student business accelerator.

Thomas is an alumnus of WMU who earned his degree in industrial marketing in 1996. He joined OtterBox in 2003 and was eventually named CEO where he was responsible for leading global expansion efforts. During his tenure, Thomas received the Mid-Market CEO of the Year in 2014 from CEO Connection and was named one of the Top 100 CEOs in the country by Chief Executive Magazine. Thomas' passion for entrepreneurial thinking and social entrepreneurship sparked his desire to establish this award to support student entrepreneurs. Thomas is currently the CEO of his own independent consultant business working with startups and entrepreneurs.

Wendell Christoff Award

The Wendell Christoff Award honors students in Starting Gate who use their talent to create opportunities for others through their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Christoff is an alumnus of WMU who earned his degree in business administration in 1968. After graduation, Christoff joined the U.S. Air Force and served as a pilot. Following his service, Christoff returned to the family business, C.J. Christoff & Sons, beginning in the sales department. In 1997, a merger created Litehouse Inc., where Christoff is the president and CEO. Litehouse produces salad dressing and sauces and was named a Top 100 privately held company by Entrepreneur magazine.

Starting Gate

Starting Gate, WMU's student business accelerator, gives students rich and valuable resources to develop their startup companies. It is located in downtown Kalamazoo and operated by the Haworth College of Business Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation in partnership with the WMU Office of Community Outreach. The accelerator is open to all WMU students through a competitive application process during which students must demonstrate a promising idea for a product or service that can be launched within a short period.

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