Junior Petroleum students win inaugural PioBiz competition

Aaron Dillon and Jon Hinson pose for a group photo

Minutes after learning he and a classmate had just won Marietta College’s inaugural PioBiz competition, Jon Hinson ’17 (Rocky River, Ohio) was looking for some privacy.

“After a brief celebration, I had to get changed and get to crew practice,” Hinson said.

Hinson’s determination to succeed — along with that of his partner, Aaron Dillon ’17 (Windham, Connecticut) who are both Petroleum Engineer majors — is just one of the reasons he believes they won the competition and why he thinks their business plan will succeed.

“We still have a lot of work to do, but the best part about this competition is the support we will now get from the College and local entrepreneurs,” Hinson said.

The partners, who hope to start a business based on the need for locating, identifying and then managing abandoned oil wells in the area, will also be able to receive up to $10,000 in financial assistance. The money is made available through a grant the College received from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.

“We named it Thunder Resources,” Dillon said. “We had a number of ideas, but we picked this one because we felt it gave us the best chance to win.”

Dillon and Hinson both agree there is a lot of work to be done before Thunder Resources — a company that will assess what wells are of highest risk, whether they are leaking hydrocarbons or methane, then provide that data to the Ohio Department of Resources to plug.

“There’s no truck. We have none of the tools. We don’t have a client. We need the materials to even entertain the idea of a client,” Dillon said. “That’s what we plan to start doing now. Winning the competition doesn’t mean we have a successful business. We have a workable plan and now we have to get to work.”

Dr. Ben Ebenhack, Associate Professor of Petroleum Engineering, mentored Dillon and Hinson throughout the planning.

“He even sat in and gave us advice on our presentation,” Hinson said. “We talked to him early on about our ideas and he really helped us see how the Thunder Resources idea was a sound one.”

Ebenhack said the idea evolved from an academic approach to starting a consulting company, to finding some niche opportunities.

“I really became involved as they were discussing some niche opportunities and mentioned to them what a large issue orphan wells might be and a project that AHEAD Energy had done in helping the Seneca Nation of Indians develop a strategy to find missing wells on their land,” Ebenhack said. “The student team was excited about finding ways to meet that need. I was amazed at how promptly they secured contact with ODNR personnel to gain a better understanding of the enormity of the issue in the state of Ohio.”

The concept was also well received by the judges, three local entrepreneurs — Joe Eddy (President/CEO of Eagle Manufacturing Co.), John Lehman (President of Alliance Industries) and Laurie Strahler (owns and operates four McDonald’s) — who selected Thunder Resources following a presentation by the two finalists. Gabrielle Simmons ’17 (Cairo, West Virginia), a psychology major, presented “Gliding through the GRE,” a proposed hands-on classroom that would help students take the graduate school entry exam, called the GRE.

The judges also served as mentors to the competitors throughout the academic year. All three agreed to help Hinson and Dillon as they try to get their company off the ground in the fall.

“All of them congratulated us afterward and then handed us a business card and told us to reach out to them whenever we had a question,” Hinson said.

This was the first year of the PioBiz competition, which allowed students at Marietta to develop and pitch a first-time business plan. Funding for the competition was made available through a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation.

“The PioBiz competition is not like any other competition where the competitors are left alone to figure things out on their own,” said Dr. Jacqueline Khorassani, Professor of Economics and PioBiz organizer. “We guide and support our students thorough various workshops, classes, and personal meetings before and after the competition. We don’t just hand out a $10,000 check to the winners and wish them good luck. We really want to see our students succeed.”

Another requirement is the business must remain in the Mid-Ohio Valley.

“Aaron and Jon seem to be working together really well,” Khorassani said. “They are both goal oriented and determined to succeed. I encourage them to use all of the resources that Marietta College will make available to them fully in order to maximize their probability of success.”