The University of Arkansas said Tuesday (Feb. 16) seven student teams won up to $2,000 each in a seed funding competition hosted by the UA Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation (OEI) in partnership with the School of Law.
On Jan. 21, a panel of expert judges, consisting of area investors, entrepreneurs and business leaders, heard pitches from 13 teams. The winning teams included a mix of undergrad and graduate students who previously had completed customer discovery or market research to advance their businesses and innovations. Their winnings will cover the needs of each team, such as prototype development, customer discovery, design services and legal fees.
“We are deeply grateful to our alumni Ron LeMay and his wife Casondra LeMay for providing financial support for this enriching experience for our students,” said law school Dean Margaret Sova McCabe.
The Ron and Casondra LeMay Endowment for Entrepreneurial Law was established to support teaching, research, programs and scholarships, prepare the next generation of lawyers skilled in business and entrepreneurial law, and encourage professional development of entrepreneurs through legal training opportunities.
The seed funding competition also allows the college to address some of the teams’ legal needs, said Will Foster, associate dean for academic affairs in the law school.
“The student seed fund was made possible through donations from entrepreneurs and business leaders across the community in addition to the generous support offered through the Ron and Casondra LeMay Endowment for Entrepreneurial Law,” said Sarah Goforth, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation. “These awards, alongside the mentoring and training offered by OEI and the School of Law, will help the teams advance their ideas and ventures with a safety net of support from across the university and in the community.”
Following are the winning teams:
- Airkart – Zain Blackwell, Mitchell Belz, Morgan Burns, Gabriel David, Smit Patel and Casey Thurmon. The Airkart is a mobile, medical storage cart that provides caregivers easy access to life-saving devices, according to a news release. The cart seeks to address safety issues that hinder care for the patient and caregiver. The team plans to use the money to assemble a prototype with the possibility of including a lift system to assist with vehicular transport.
- Bullyproof – Liz Alspach, Amanda Earhart and Joe Macaluso. Bullyproof seeks to halt workplace toxicity with in-depth training through more precise human resources language from a propriety terminology database. Bullyproof is backed by a team of experts with industry experience, the release shows. The team aims to shift corporate culture and use the money to help the product move from the wireframe stage to the testing phase.
- Gas pump project – Julia Davis, Emma Choate, Caleb Hill, Mary Pham, Isha Rajaram, Sailesh Sirigineedi and Halle Schneidewind. The team has created a nozzle attachment to prevent gas spills at the pump. Their research showed that small spills can be devastating to the environment and the people running the gas station. They are testing a prototype that is inexpensive to produce and doesn’t hinder fueling speed compared to existing technology.
- Nivera Icephobic – Giselle Toledo. Nivera has created a durable, multifaceted product that keeps ice from coating a surface. The product is applicable from protecting energy infrastructure to fighting food waste. The team plans to use the money to test the product on preventing ice accumulation on cell towers.
- Simple + Sweet ice cream – Coleman Warren. Warren has established an area sourced, homemade ice cream company that donates a portion of its revenue to the NWA Food Bank to fight food insecurity. The company has exceeded $7,000 in revenue in three months, has no debt and little overhead costs. It’s donated about 10,000 meals.
- Sustainable concrete – Maddie Heal. Heal’s product addresses the world’s growing need for infrastructure with a green form of concrete. The new material would be made using fly ash and recycled plastics to create sustainable concrete mixtures, the release shows. This approach also will ensure that non-biodegradable waste doesn’t reach landfills.
- Synflo – Grayson Morrow, Astha Malhotra and Emily Wiencek. Synflo is a patent-pending device for vascular grafts designed to reduce surgery risks and costs and supports immune defense. The team plans to use the money to pay for consulting that will help the device clear regulatory hurdles.
Following were the judges:
- Jeff Amerine, founder and managing director, Startup Junkie Consulting
- Ellen Brune, director of emerging technology and product, Walmart
- Rogelio Garcia Contreras, director of social innovation initiative, UA Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
- Meredith Lowry, patent attorney, Wright, Lindsey & Jennings LLP
- Bjorn Simmons, co-founder and managing partner, Venture Noire
- Maf Sonko, co-founder and CEO, AidBanc.