VivImmune, Drone Surveying Solutions take top prizes at Governor’s Cup business plan competition

by Todd Jones (tejones1971@gmail.com) 153 views 

The University of Arkansas has been successful in the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup competition, winning $2.3 million in cash prizes at the state, regional, national and international business plan competitions in recent years. That success continued in 2016.

The 2016 Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup held its award ceremony and luncheon at the Statehouse Convention Center on Tuesday, April 19. Graduate and undergraduate finalists competed in a pitch contest while overall winners were awarded in the areas of Innovation and Agriculture. The business plan competition, now in its 17th year, is sponsored by the Arkansas Economic Acceleration Foundation, an affiliate of Little Rock-based Arkansas Capital Corporation.

In the undergraduate division, Drone Surveying Solutions of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, took home the $25,000 top prize. Drone Surveying Solutions proposes to help farmers save money using drones to identify crop losses, expenses, and negative environmental effects.

Other winners in the undergraduate division included Natural State Bedding from John Brown University (second) and Short Bow from the University of Central Arkansas (third).

Drone Surveying Solutions and Natural State Bedding will compete in the Donald W. Reynolds Tri-State Awards May 25-26 in Las Vegas. The teams will compete against the top undergraduate winners in Oklahoma and Nevada.

In the graduate division, VivImmune from the University of Arkansas won the top prize. VivImmune is a start-up biotechnology company specializing in immunotherapy for bladder cancer.

“They have a technology that can really change the way cancer is being treated for millions of people,” University of Arkansas faculty advisor Dr. Carol Reeves told Talk Business & Politics following the luncheon. “They’ve had incredible mouse data. It not only destroys the tumor, but keeps them from coming back in other areas. It’s really exciting.”

The University of Arkansas swept the top three places in the Graduate division. Joining VivImmune was Actio Systems (second place) and deciLvl (third place). VivImmune and Actio Systems will compete in the Donald W. Reynolds Tri-State Awards May 25-26 in Las Vegas. The teams will compete against the top graduate winners in Oklahoma and Nevada.

The wins continued the dominance shown by the University of Arkansas in recent years. When asked if it ever gets old, Reeves said, “It does not get old because the students work so hard to get here. It’s not me, it’s them.”

Mike Preston, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission who emceed the event, was impressed with the presentations during the pitch competition.

“They are really good. Some of these students, I would take an appointment with, just because they have a great idea, a good concept and they sell it well,” he said following the luncheon. “I would love to sit down with them and look at the business plan to see if it makes sense.”

Preston sees the Governor’s Cup as a great tool for economic development.

“This is so huge. You have a way to get this generation of college and graduate students involved in business plans and preparing for the future. We can help them understand, ‘Hey, this is something I can do for the rest of my life. I can find something I love to do, and I can do it right here in Arkansas.’”

It seems that the students may have. A chorus of positive reaction came from the VivImmune team students following the ceremony on April 19.

“Very, very excited,” they said when asked how they felt about winning the competition. “There was a lot of good competition here, so we are definitely pleased.”

The company picked up prizes for the Delta Plastics Innovation Award, the Graduate Division Overall, and the AT&T Elevator Pitch Contest Graduate Division. In all, VivImmune won $32,000 in prizes.

When asked about what they learned during the process, team members said working together in collaboration, the hard work needed to get a business off the ground, and the impact of technology. VivImmune plans on moving forward with the business and seeking investment capital.

They have been successful at other competitions throughout the country coming in third place in Oregon and winning a competition in Louisville. In addition, the team made some crucial private equity connections while competing in Houston at Rice University.

The Governor’s Cup has become ultra-competitive over the years.

“The Governor’s Cup program is ultimately an academic competition, teaching Arkansas’ collegians to think like entrepreneurs,” according to Rush Deacon, CEO of Arkansas Capital. “What is amazing in watching the evolution of the program since its start in 2001 is how the plans entered now are dominated by actual development-stage enterprises, with the real potential for commercial deployment.”

The Agriculture Award was presented by Arkansas Farm Bureau for the top Agricultural business. First place winner was AGCorp of Ouachita Baptist University. The second place winner went to Natural State Bedding of John Brown University.

Erick Chang of Arkansas State University, and April Hearne of Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock received the third annual C. Sam Walls Entrepreneur Educator Award. The award is to honor retired Arkansas Capital CEO Sam Walls, Jr. who was CEO of Arkansas Capital from 1989 to 2013 and worked to advocate for entrepreneur education in the state of Arkansas. Each teacher received $2,500 prize and their institutions received a matching prize.

Winners

Undergraduate Division
Winner – Drone Surveying Solutions, University of Arkansas, Little Rock – $25,000 cash prize
Second Place – Natural State Bedding, John Brown University, Siloam Springs – $15,000 cash prize
Third Place – Short Bow, University of Central Arkansas, Conway – $10,000 cash prize

Graduate Division
Winner – VivImmnue, University of Arkansas- $25,000 cash prize
Second Place – Actio Systems, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville – $15,000 cash prize
Third Place – deciLvl, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville – $10,000 cash Prize

Agriculture Award
First Place – AGCorp, Ouachita Baptist University – $5,000 Second Place – Natural State Bedding, John Brown University – $3,000

Innovation Award (presented by Delta Plastics)
Undergraduate Winner – Natural State Bedding, John Brown University – $5,000
Graduate Winner – VivImmnue, University of Arkansas – $5,000

AT&T Elevator Pitch competition
Drone Surveying Solutions, University of Arkansas, Little Rock – Undergraduate Division, $2,000 cash prize
VivImmnue, University of Arkansas – Graduate Division, $2,000 cash prize

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