Nineteen teams of undergraduate and graduate students showcased business models for their newly developed ideas and inventions yesterday in the semi-finals for the 13th annual New Venture Competition.
Hosted by the Technology Management Program, which specializes in providing students with entrepreneurial skills, the event showcased ideas and products ranging from an electric racing car business to a device detecting medical tools accidentally left in human bodies after surgery. Roughly 100 local business figures and venture capitalists judged entries and will announce six finalists today.
This year’s competition differed from years past since teams are now divided into two separate tracks, market pool or technology push, and a total of eight awards will be given with first, second and third place awards for overall quality — including prizes such free legal services and a $12,500 cash prize — awarded to within each track alongside an overall grand prize and people’s choice award.
TMP Director Bob York said the change allows more students to be rewarded for their efforts.
“It gives more teams a fighting chance,” York said. “There’s going to be more money, more winners and a different kind of awards structure.”
However, all participants will benefit from the business skills gained through one-on-one interaction, networking and training with local professional and venture capitalists, York said.
“These guys have been there — they’ve started up their own ventures as entrepreneurs,” York said. “The students really benefit from that. It’s practical advice you don’t get from other coursework on campus; there’s a very strong practical component. But at the end of the day, it’s a very experiential thing [since] you’re learning by doing.”
York said many students use creative approaches to address human needs not already met by current technology, noting one team’s venture called ORCA, or Operating Room Counting Assistance, which counts medical tools that can be accidentally left in human bodies after surgery is performed.
ORCA team member Michael Dein, a fourth-year business-economics major, said he conceived the idea after watching his father, a heart surgeon, at work.
“I saw him operate in August and noticed that there were nurses counting, by hand, up to 300 instruments. It seemed really inefficient,” Dein said.
Mohamed El-Zeftawi, a graduate student earning his PhD in electrical engineering, said he expanded on the idea by using computer vision technology in a device that includes both a camera and attached software. The camera takes photos of medical tools such as scissors and loads these photo images onto computer software, allowing leftover tools to be easily detected and quickly counted.
“The camera takes in pictures and then the software extracts features from the picture and counts the tools,” El-Zeftawi said. “It will save people a lot of money and it will save their lives. It will also help the hospital because insurance doesn’t cover [these incidents]. They’re called ‘never incidents’ because they should never happen.”
Other ventures included a bird watching app for smart phones, a dietary assistance and meal planning website, an international surfboard subscription service and an electric racing car business.
Arash Safai, third-year bio-psychology major, said his team compiled the idea for an electric racing car based on the idea of urbanizing and updating the hobby by providing quiet, low pollution-emitting vehicles. Such an approach can change racing culture, decreasing the cost and making it a recreational activity more accessible to the middle class, Safai said.
“On a business note, it also offers the lowest operating cost and no maintenance,” Safai said. “What makes racing so expensive is the maintenance costs — like the maintenance costs of running, you know, a Ferrari.”
The team said the automobile technology allowing such little noise and pollution emission is a trade secret that was originally developed in Silicon Valley, making it inaccessible to businesses outside the realm of computer technology.
Scott Ferguson, a mechanical engineering graduate and member of last year’s winning team Aptitude Medical Systems, said he was impressed by the projects displayed at this year’s contest. AMS, which won Best Business Plan and Most Fundable, uses breakthrough medical research involving molecules to provide highly efficient disease diagnostics.
Ferguson, who now works as CEO of AMS, said the company has already seen major developments through investment and networking opportunities attained by their win at NVC 2011, as well as through TMP’s overall training.
“We had our first injection of capital and set up a facility and we’ve also expanded the team and set up a deal pipeline with customers,” Ferguson said. “I’m sure this would’ve not been possible without this [competition]. It’s been extremely valuable — the networks of professionals and advisors.”