The ninth annual University of Massachusetts Innovation Challenge final business plan competition was held on April 7. The event culminated in awards to five competing teams from a prize pool of $50,000 provided by private sector contributions as well as two special $5,000 named awards – The David Wolf Prize and The Glass Prize. Rescue Collar won the top prize of $25,000, followed by mDiagnostics which won a total of $15,000. Fiberessence and Nine Brain each won $7,500, while Acne Free, Naturally received $5,250 at the event. Rescue Collar offers a wearable device that reunites lost pets with their owners through community and technology at the push of a button. Both mDiagnostics and Fiberessence are teams from the College of Engineering.
The team is led by MBA candidate David Waymouth, working with faculty advisor Dr. Alan Robinson, in the Isenberg School of Management. Rescue Collar will also be fast-tracked into the second round of the MassChallenge. "The Innovation Challenge has been an amazing experience for me," said Waymouth. “I'm extremely grateful for all the advice and guidance that I received from the judges, mentors, family, and friends. It's been a great learning process as I've watched my idea for a product take shape into a viable business model over the past few months.”
mDiagnostics won three prizes totaling $15,000. In addition to $7,500 from the judges, the team was honored with the third annual David Wolf Prize of $5,000, sponsored by the intellectual property law firm of Wolf Greenfield, which honors the memory of UMass Amherst alumnus David Wolf and his 60-year career as an intellectual property lawyer and leader of the firm.
Teams mDiagnostics and Nine Brain each received a $2,500 first annual Glass Prize, sponsored by the Robert and Sandra Glass Innovation Fund. Nine Brain also received $5,000 from the judges and a three-month free membership at the Venture Development Center at UMass Boston. Fiberessence won $7,500. Acne Free, Naturally took the $250 audience choice prize in addition to $5,000 awarded by the judges.
mDiagnostics offers a reliable, portable, single-use, low-cost, hepatitis C screening device. The team is led by Akshaya Shanmugam, a doctoral student in electrical and computer engineering. Her faculty advisor is Dr. Christopher Salthouse in the College of Engineering.
Fiberessence offers all-natural, antibacterial, wound-healing bandages based on cinnamon and is led by Katrina Rieger, who is pursuing a doctorate in chemical engineering. Her faculty advisor is Dr. Jessica Schiffman in the College of Engineering.
Nine Brain offers the first socially enabled professional network for academic inventors to create up-to-date, online, technology resumes for empowering tech-transfer. The team is led by Ruby Kandah, a Ph.D. candidate in the UMass intercampus biomedical engineering & biotechnology program. Her teammate is Arun Rai, a MD candidate at the Boston University School of Medicine. Their faculty advisor is Dr. Stephen McCarthy of the Plastics Engineering Department at the University of Massachusetts Lowell.
Acne Free, Naturally offers an easy to use product that eliminates acne-causing bacteria from the skin without harmful side effects. The team is comprised of undergraduate students studying microbiology, Morgan Dennis, Clariss Ronzio and Marjorie Archila, working with faculty mentor Dr. Margaret Riley in the College of Natural Sciences.
Since 2005, the UMass Innovation Challenge has provided $625,000 in awards to 73 different student-led teams. The awards are entirely supported by private sector contributions.It is designed to help current students and young alumni who have innovative ideas to develop business plans and move products closer to market.
“All five of these finalist teams showed terrific progress this year and have great promise for impact as they take the next steps to turn their innovations and passion into reality," said Mike Malone, Ronnie and Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor of Engineering and Vice Chancellor for Research and Engagement.
The UMass Amherst co-sponsors are the College of Engineering, the College of Natural Sciences, the Isenberg School of Management and the UMass Innovation Institute.
Innovation Challenge prizes are funded by sponsors, including Wolf Greenfield; Saint Gobain; Glass Family Endowment for Entrepreneurial Studies; alumnus Steve Luby; Cantor Colburn LLP; CISCO; Raytheon; Saul Ewing; an anonymous faculty donor; alumnus Stephen Dunne; alumnus Eric Janszen and Candy Janszen; Provenance Venture Partners, and Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting. Support from the late Eugene M. Isenberg and his wife, Ronnie Isenberg, is gratefully acknowledged. (April 2014)