FORTUNE Small Business
Showdown: Killer Startups Full coverage

Honorable mentions

Three finalist teams that earned a nod.

Calle Soccer

What it does: Aims to be the Quicksilver of street soccer

Team Mulligan Stew
Team Idea Storm
Showdown: Killer Startups
• 1st place: Green Dragon Roach Kill
• 2nd place: Saatwic Foods
• 3rd place: SweetRiot
• Gallery: Meet the judges
• Video: Killer Startups video

Founders: Joseph Allen, 28; Morgan Gilliam, 25; Klane Harding, 23; Steven Magleby, 23; Josh Robbins, 26; Travis Winn, 27; Tyler Winn, 24

Launched: July 2006

Startup Capital: $260,000 loan from a founder's father; $50,000 prize from a business plan competition

For the serious soccer player, Europe is a kind of paradise. TV offers a lavish feast of coverage. Fans are passionate. And anyone with a decent corner kick can find a scrappy street game.

Travis Winn knows this first hand: He played a lot of pick-up soccer while in Spain on the two-year mission required of Mormons. He'd been a star player at Brigham Young University, but street soccer was new to him: no rules, no refs, no cards. It was fast, ferocious and so rough that the standard ball was threadbare in a few quarters, destroyed in a few games. So he created a better ball, made of rubber, not leather, so it would withstand the beating it took on the concrete field. When he left in 2002, he brought street soccer - and his special ball - home.

He recruited six soccer-playing buddies from BYU to help start the business, Calle (street in Spanish), and is now selling his $40 ball and a line of men's and women's sports apparel in 29 stores, mostly on the West Coast and in Colorado. Sales for the company's first fiscal year, which ended in September, topped $120,000. Eurosport, a catalog distributed to eleven million soccer players and fans all over the world, has also agreed to feature Calle's products in its online store,

Calle's goal is to match the success of brands such as Quicksilver, which has built a billion-dollar global business capitalizing on the romance of the surf culture. The company had a modest start selling shorts for surfers in Southern California; today its product line includes apparel, sports equipment, and footwear. "Soccer is the only sport that doesn't have fashion apparel," says Josh Robbins, CFO of Calle Soccer. "We're going to give the player everything he needs off the field, everything that says, 'I play soccer.'"

Unlike most student start-ups, Calle Soccer is hardly starved for cash. One of the founders' dads loaned the new company $260,000. (He holds a convertible note that could give him a significant stake in the company.) Calle Soccer also won first prize in BYU's business plan competition, which netted $50,000. The biggest challenge is not financing, it's convincing sports retailers there's a bigger market then they used to think in soccer. "They want to sell shin guards," says Robbins. "We're selling a lifestyle."

Mulligan Stew Pet Food

What it does: Makes healthy pet food

Founders: Dennie Arnold, 62; Robin Farkas, 73; Kevin Meehan, 49; Diane Peterson, 49; Gary Trauner, 48

Launched: 2006

Startup capital: $100,000

When Kevin Meehan's black Labrador puppy, Mulligan, turned two, he started thinking about how much time they had left together. Morbid, sure, but it inspired Meehan to create a custom canine cuisine to extend Mulligan's life. Meehan was well prepared for the task: He was a holistic health-care practitioner who had studied orthomolecular medicine in graduate school and had opened the Teton Valley Health Clinic in Jackson, Wyoming, in 1995, treating everyone from athletes to cancer patients. "I wanted to figure out how to make my dog's life longer and more comfortable," he says.

Five years later, in 2002, Meehan had found his answer: a stew that included cooked chicken, amino acids, enzymes, beta-carotene, cabbage, and rice. Meehan believed the combination would slow down cell division (which slows down aging), prevent toxin buildup and make his dog more resistant to disease. By the time he was six, Mulligan had no gray hair and was thriving, as he is now; only one of Mulligan's eight siblings is still alive.

He resolved to turn his success into a business and found three willing investors: Gary Trauner, CFO; Robin Farkas, CEO; and Dennie Arnold, who isn't involved in day-to-day management. (Meehan is chief scientific officer, and Mulligan is chief dog officer.) Together they kicked in $100,000.

The group's first challenge was finding a canner; because Mulligan Stew Pet Food was so small, most companies refused to squeeze them into an often-packed schedule. But American Nutrition in Ogden, Utah, agreed, and in mid-2006 Meehan put 700 cases each of four flavors - chicken, beef, salmon and turkey - on the shelves of local Jackson stores and in his health clinic. A year later, Mulligan Stew is now sold in 60 stores across four states, and it just signed a distribution deal to add three more.

Idea Storm Products

What it does: Make doodling profitable

Founder: Bill Phelps, 27

Launched: January 2007

Startup capital: $25,000 in personal savings

Bill Phelps is taking MBA night classes at Pace University, but, he says, "The 'real' grad school has been the board rooms and manufacturing shops of two small companies." The first is Olympia Sports, where he oversees product design and development for the apparel manufacturer; the second is his own Idea Storm Products, the umbrella company for all of his side projects.

Based in a run-down artists' space in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., Idea Storm has been the home for numerous brainstorms, including a first-aid belt for hikers. But Phelps things he finally has a winner with his latest invention: a doodling game he calls Yamodo, which asks players to flex their imaginations by drawing and defining made-up words that come on playing cards. There are no winners and losers, no right and wrong.

Initially, Phelps planned on printing his words on stacks of napkins and selling the game to bars and diners; however, once he researched the success of Cranium, the popular dinner-party staple, he decided there might be room for another player in the $1.1 billion board-game market. So far the Discovery Channel has agreed, selling the game in 125 of its stores, as has Barnes & Noble, which sells it online and will stock the game in all its U.S. stores for the 2007 holiday season. As a result, Phelps projects that Idea Storm will break even by the end of the year. Still, he won't be quitting Olympia: He promised himself that he wouldn't leave until he could afford to hire a workforce and pay rent with Idea Storm's income.

"I'm not going anywhere until the sheer volume of orders exceeds what I can do part-time," says Phelps as he ponders a stack of about 2,000 boxes of Yamodo about to be shipped to Barnes & Noble. He plans on creating two new versions of the game in 2008, and sometime in the next few years hopes to license Yamodo to a larger game company, one that can handle fulfilling large orders. "I've learned that it's very hard to be a creative company within the world of processing and shipping a huge number of orders," he says. "As a small company, you have to focus on what you're truly good at."  Top of page