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Asian carp food proposal lures $1,000 prize

By John WrightMurray Ledger & Times

MURRAY - Forgive Lula Luu for being in a state of shock following Tuesday's entrepreneurial pitch competition at Heritage Hall at Murray State University.

Past the point of exhaustion from a rapid-fire road trip from New Orleans that resulted in a 7 a.m. arrival in Murray, Luu said she was not sharp in her delivery on behalf of the Fin International LLC, which in the process of moving to Paducah. It was good enough, though, as Fin International walked away with the $1,000 top prize.

"You know how afterwards with something like this, you go back over it and start beating yourself up? That's me. I'm shocked," Luu said of the competition, the third of eight throughout Kentucky being sponsored by the Office of Entrepreneurship within the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development, along with the Kentucky Angels Network and the Kentucky Innovation Network.

Fin International now qualifies for a statewide competition in Frankfort. The only thing Luu said she will try to change for that event is making sure she is able to get more sleep.

"I've been doing this every weekend for about a year and a half," said Luu of pitching the product she and business partner John Crilly held so much belief in that they both left university research positions: the Asian carp. "The first time we tried to prepare this for demonstration to a group, we handled 300 pounds and it literally just about killed us, because we were doing it by hand, the traditional way."

Fin International's selling point also may be a bit surprising to native western Kentuckians, the pursuit of the Asian carp being a viable food source. The Paducah location is set to open in a few months and will offer hand-prepared versions of the fish that will require minimal effort once on a home stove or grill.

"What we have seen is that Kentucky has the best fish for this, and this is a time where people want to know where their food is coming from. This is the perfect place for that," Luu said, emphasizing the Asian carp's advantage of being a grass-feeding fish, not carnivorous. "That also means the bigger the fish, the more fillets you can get from them."

Tuesday's competition followed a similar pattern to the ABC show "Shark Tank," where aspiring entrepreneurs are given a short amount of time - 10 minutes in this case - to tell a panel of judges about their products. Judges Tuesday were Greg Batts, owner and operator of Prizer Point Marina on Lake Barkley in Trigg County; area businessman John Brewster; and Jason Pittman, Calloway manager for the Community Financial Services Bank.

"To see local entrepreneurs get out of their box to tell about their ideas was really enjoyable," Pittman said. "You also could see how these ideas could affect the economy, not just here locally but throughout Kentucky."

"This was so cool to be part of," said Brandi Harless, CEO of Personal Medicine Plus of Paducah, whose team took second and pocketed $500.

That group pitched a way to challenge Medicaid patients to adopt healthier lifestyles. She also had the duty of leading off the day's competition.

"I like going first, though. You're able to get it over. Plus, at that point, there really are no expectations. I was amazed, though, at the presentations the other teams had today."

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