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Jason Oteng-Nyame is from Ghana, a West African nation.
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From left, Gabriel Wamunyu, Anthony Wamunyu Maina and Jason Oteng-Nyame became friends in boarding school in South Africa and reunited in May when they graduated from college and moved to Chattanooga to launch a startup business venture here.

Three friends who met in high school in Africa took the top prizes Monday night at Will This Float?, an annual Chattanooga competition that showcases startup businesses.

First place and the people's choice award went to Asili Labs, which is the startup of Jason Oteng-Nyame, who's from Ghana, and Gabriel Wamunyu and Anthony "Tony" Wamunyu Maina, from Kenya.

The three friends this fall plan to launch Tryall, a web and mobile platform that lets users test subscription-based products at no charge.

"We have built the best place for you to test out subscription-based products," Oteng-Nyame told an audience of about 150 people at this year's Will This Float? competition.

If people decide to subscribe to an online product, such as Netflix, Hulu or Sling, Tryall will handle unsubscribing, he said. All the user has to do is specify the date.

Since Tryall won't charge users, it plans to make money by offering premium subscriptions, selling ad space on its website and collecting data on general consumer behavior that it will sell to subscription-based companies.

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Will This Float Emcee Lakweshia Ewing gets the crowd fired up with a house selfie just prior to the competition for startup companies at 2 Aquarium Way Monday night. The event is sponsored by the CoLab.
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Jason Oteng-Nyame holds first place with his Tryall pitch in the Will This Float competition for startup companies Monday night.

The trio met when they attended the African Leadership Academy, a boarding school located in the outskirts of Johannesburg, South Africa, that has the goal of producing the next generation of African leaders.

The school has a good track record of placing graduates in good colleges, Oteng-Nyame said.

Oteng-Nyame went to Davidson College in Davidson, N.C., where he majored in economics. His two partners went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, where Wamunyu majored in computer engineering and Maina majored in computer science.

"While we were in college, we just kept in touch. We always knew we wanted to start a business together," Oteng-Nyame said.

For about 18 months during college, he said, they ran a startup online shopping and delivery platform in Kenya.

This is the eighth annual Will This Float?, which is put on by The Company Lab (Co.Lab), a nonprofit startup accelerator that supports entrepreneurial growth in southeast Tennessee. It's housed on the first floor of the Edney Innovation Center, which is on the corner East 11th and Market streets.

The trio moved here in May because they wanted to take part in Co.Lab's accelerator program.

"We just came straight from college to Chattanooga, and it's been fun," Oteng-Nyame said.

The friends share an apartment in the Fleetwood Building on East 11th Street near Co.Lab.

Second place went to two startup companies: Nashville-based Please Assist Me, a platform that lets people outsource their weekly household chores to a personal assistant who'll come to the client's home wearing a personal body camera, and to Swayy Hammocks, a Chattanooga business that plans to sell lightweight insulated hammocks for backpacking.

Eight participants made their "pitches" — quick summaries of their business plans and funding requests — to an audience on the second floor of River Place, a building that houses Puckett's Restaurant near the Tennessee Aquarium.

Will This Float has been host to 67 startup companies that have received $42 million in capital, said Marcus Shaw, Co.Lab's chief executive.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.face book.com/MeetsForBusiness or on Twitter @meetfor business or 423-757-6651.

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