May 3, 2014

Four teams take top prizes in WSU new venture competition

Three years from now, you might be using a product that came to life on Friday.

Three years from now, you might be using a product that came to life on Friday.

Friday afternoon was the finals of the Shocker New Venture Competition at Wichita State University’s Devlin Hall.

Four teams were trying to pass beyond the “Gee, that’s a cool concept” to “Let me get my checkbook” as the competition awarded $34,000.

The contestants were:

• iNOv8v Health Technologies – A device that would use facial recognition software to detect a variety of vital signs during exercise and, in some applications, to automatically change settings on the exercise equipment. It won $12,000 by taking the $5,000 second place, plus the health care innovation award of $7,000.

It was presented by CEO Heidi VanRavenhorst-Bell, a WSU doctoral student and instructor in exercise science. WSU professors Jeremy Patterson and Jibo He are also owners.

• Pocket Closet – A smartphone app where shoppers could scan clothes’ bar codes, allowing them to compare prices and styles between stores and share preferences over social media. It won the $10,000 first prize. It was presented by founder Yola Roberts.
• Angel Drive – A smartphone app that, when mounted on the dashboard, would use facial recognition software to measure when a driver demonstrates fatigue and sound a warning, as well as collect that information for company owners and insurers. It won $7,750 for the $750 fourth prize, plus the $7,000 in the technology innovation award. It was presented by Jake Ellis and Christina Siu, graduate students of Professor Jibo He.
• Smart Water Irrigation – A system that would precisely control how water is applied on a lawn using sensors and a centralized controller. It won the $2,000 third prize. It was presented founders Amanda Henning, Trevor Darmstetter and Landon Unruh, who are all seniors.

The four emerged from a crowded field of prospective entrepreneurs. Every team that made it to last week’s trade show received $100; and every team that made to this week’s round of eight received $250.

The four teams made pitches to veteran judges from the community who – politely – asked probing questions, such as: What specifically makes your product different and better than your competitors? What actually is patentable? How specifically does the technology work?

This year’s competition is different from earlier WSU student business competitions because it emphasizes businesses with the potential for rapid growth, rather than just ones that could become profitable.

All four teams said they plan to move forward with their business plans.

Pocket Closet’s Roberts said she is seeking the $400,000 she estimates is needed to take Pocket Closet from a prototype and business plan to a real commercial product. She has made connections in Wichita’s tech community, but said she may have to head to the West Coast to chase financing and technical experience.

“I don’t have a job lined up after college,” she told the judges. “This what I want to do … I am 100 percent committed to this. I’m passionate.”

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