By: FHSU FoundationHAYS, Kan. – “TransFortified,” an entrepreneurial business plan created by PJ Stauffer, won first place at the 2023 Faulkner Challenge for a Better Future at Fort Hays State University.


Stauffer, a senior drawing major and graduate of Beloit High School, received a $6,000 first-place cash award for his presentation. Stauffer’s business is a non-profit website with resources for transgender Americans looking for information in multiple facets, including name changes, navigating medical transition, peer support, historical and scientific accuracy, self-advocacy, and connecting to local resources.


“I don’t want others to go through the turmoil that I went through,” Stauffer, who was born female but now identifies as male, said in his presentation to the judges at Saturday’s event. “Nowadays, it is more difficult to get access to resources because the laws are changing all the time.”


Stauffer said that winning the competition was unexpected. He often struggles with discussing the status of his gender identity with others and found that the encouragement of his professors and peers played a key role in his moving forward with the project.


“I plan to help people who are going through the same thing as me see that it is actually worth it,” he said. “Good things happen. Keep trying. You literally never know what’s going to happen.”

The Faulkner Challenge is a business plan competition designed to develop entrepreneurial imagination and innovation in university students, regardless of major or interests. It is open to any new venture in the conceptual, seed, or startup stages and to students from any community college or university in Kansas. Teams are evaluated on their ability to clearly identify a market opportunity, value proposition, and sustainable competitive advantage.


While all entries are welcome, of special interest are proposals for innovations in or design of products, processes, systems, services, or businesses that are economically sustainable, with promise for social and or environmental benefit.

FHSU alum Kevin Faulkner established an endowed fund for the W.R. and Yvonne Robbins College of Business and Entrepreneurship business plan challenge that now bears his name. He supports the challenge in many ways, including serving as a judge for the competition.

Faulkner, who joined Saturday’s finals competition online, offered his help and guidance to all three teams competing.


“These are three outstanding ideas, and I think you presented them very well,” he said. “I hope you continue to move forward with them.”


The second-place $3,000 prize went to Salma Beauty, a sustainable makeup startup that draws inspiration from the beauty of Morocco. Team members: Fiorella Mendez, Paraguay; Diana Angarita, San Felipe, Venezuela; Bass Fall, Dakar, Senegal; and Mohamed Didi, Dakar, Senegal.


Winning the $1,000 third-place award was Innovia Construction, LLC 3D printed homes – building sustainable, high-quality homes for an affordable price. Team members: Max Weimer, McCook, Neb.; Caitlin Leiker, Hays; Tanner Miller, Spearville; and Alicia Feyerherm, Hays.


Competition for the 2023 award was “razor thin,” said Dr. Rick Edgeman, director of FHSU’s Center for Entrepreneurship and organizer of the challenge.


“It was an incredibly challenging discussion and decision. Whether you walk away with 3rd, 2nd, or 1st, you are all winners. You all did amazing jobs.”


Edgeman said all the competitors have a legitimate chance to move forward with their business plans to make a significant impact on the world.


“That’s what this competition was about,” he said. “Doing things that matter. We feel that every one of your ideas is something that makes a difference.”