Six finalists will present their business plans and investor pitches at the Technology Management Program’s 2014 New Venture Competition today at 3 p.m. in Corwin Pavilion.

After brainstorming business ideas, forming teams, working with local business leaders and presenting their businesses at the New Venture Fair, six business teams — Cayuga Biotech, Fluency Lighting Technologies, ShadowMaps, Bottle Branders, Echo and Salty Girl Seafood — have made it to the finals. For the first time, this year’s competition will be divided between a “tech push” category, where ventures commercialize science or technology, and a “market pull” category, where ventures address existing customer needs with new ideas.

TMP Entrepreneurial Programs Manager and NVC organizer Mike Panesis said entrepreneurship has become an increasingly appealing career path for students, resulting in stronger teams entering the competition with each passing year.

“Being your own boss, starting your own business — if that movement gains movement, the quality of the teams we see continue to improve,” Panesis said. “This year’s teams seem to have come to us with their minds set on being entrepreneurs.”

Damien Kudela, a materials science Ph.D. candidate and co-founder of Cayuga Biotech, said NVC attracts graduate students because of its focus on innovation.

“I went to school at Cornell, and when I was there, we didn’t have that,” Kudela said. “The NVC has kind of been taken over by graduate students. It’s really exciting they have something so innovative.”

Kudela’s business venture has been in development since 2011 and is currently in the process of starting pre-clinical trials. According to Kudela, the team is still refining the details involved in the synthesis of the actual drug.

Kudela also said the pre-clinical trials must involve animal tests before being permitted by the Food and Drug Administration to move on to human tests and into the commercializing stage. According to Kudela, a drug will generally need seven to ten years before it can be commercialized.

“Overall, you have to remind yourself that research is really hard, but you fail more than you succeed, so it makes those successes even more valuable,” Kudela said.

Brian Morton, a fourth-year environmental science major and co-founder of Echo, said the group works to increase efficiency at restaurants that have a high volume of orders, such as Chipotle. According to Morton, Echo is a mobile ordering service that allows customers to order from anywhere at any time.

“We’re trying to put menus on phones. We’re trying to put all mobile menus in one application,” Morton said. “Beyond that, we want people to be able to order and pay through their phone.”

Currently, Morton said Echo is working on its application with Buddha Bowls. However, Echo has not yet released a prototype because the payment system for the application has not yet been successfully developed, Morton said.

“Unfortunately, the payment system is tough, [but] we have a lot of restaurants that are interested in trying it,” Morton said.

Laura Johnson, graduate student at the Bren School of Environmental Science and Management and co-founder of Salty Girl Seafood, said she and one of her teammates Norah Eddy began in the Bren department as an eco-entrepreneurial team before moving onto Salty Girl Seafood. Together, the duo has been able to utilize knowledge from hands-on experience in fisheries to build their company, Johnson said.

“Norah and I have both worked in the fisheries and on commercial fishing vessels in Alaska,” Johnson said. “All of us have had a deep interest in fisheries and seafood.”

Eddy, also a Bren graduate student and Salty Girl Seafood co-founder, said her team recently launched their website, Twitter feed and Facebook page live. Eddy said these advancements mark a significant moment for their group and that all members agree that they will continue working on the business venture regardless of today’s final results.

“Today was the first day of the network outside of UCSB. We’re excited to open it up to the world,” Eddy said. “The New Venture Competition comes at a great time for us. No matter what happens tomorrow, we’re going to keep pushing forward.”

Photo by Peter Vandenbelt / Daily Nexus

A version of this story appeared on page 3 of Thursday, May 22, 2014′s print edition of the Daily Nexus.