Tech efforts win big at Venture Creation Competition

Umar Hansi, a senior in the School of Engineering, presents to judges during the 2016 Venture Cre...
Umar Hansi, a senior in the School of Engineering, presents to judges during the 2016 Venture Creation Competition. Hansi's team, Tiny Tech, won first place in the undergraduate division and a $4,000 prize.

A new communication system for drones and a series of products that protect against electromagnetic radiation were the winners at the Venture Creation Competition hosted by Virginia Commonwealth University last week as part of Student Research Weeks. Prize-winners HeloSky Drones, which captured the top award in the graduate division, and Tiny Tech, which earned first place in the undergraduate division, each received a $4,000 prize, in addition to bragging rights.

“We were thrilled that we made it to the final four. That was an honor,” said HeloSky co-founder G. Blue Crump, a first-year graduate student in product innovation at the da Vinci Center. “First place is always wonderful, so we’re pretty excited.”

Crump founded HeloSky with his partner, Robert Gilligan, a senior at University of California, Berkeley. They designed an attachable speaker and microphone to transmit two-way communication with a drone.

G. Blue Crump, a first-year graduate student in product innovation at the da Vinci Center, was part of the winning team in the graduate school division. Crump co-founded HeloSky, which created a new communication system for drones.
G. Blue Crump, a first-year graduate student in product innovation at the da Vinci Center, was part of the winning team in the graduate school division. Crump co-founded HeloSky, which created a new communication system for drones.

Crump and Gilligan were both interested in drone technology and Crump had an epiphany watching a Portlandia episode about drones. “Why can’t you have two-way communications? Here you are shooting this beautiful 4K [high-resolution] video and you have no capacity to capture any sound, whether it’s from an event, people or crowds,” Crump said.

He and Gilligan determined that there were no audio applications for drones in the marketplace and started working on a provisional patent last year for one-way and two-way communication using a handful of different signals, including Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

They see their product being useful in several markets, including law enforcement, search and rescue, and even in coastal cities where lifeguard units are already using drones to spot sharks and riptides.

Meanwhile, the Tiny Tech team is using patterning and design technology to develop products that protect against electromagnetic radiation. EMR is the radiation that emits from everyday electronics. The team includes Umar Hasni and Christopher Deloglos, both seniors in the VCU School of Engineering; Margaret Karles, a graduate student in the VCU Brandcenter; and Erdem Topsackal, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering.

The group started working on its idea last fall and almost missed the deadline to submit a proposal for the VC competition. “I was in the midst of applying for a number of funding opportunities and competitions, and my phone went off right before noon on the day of the deadline,” Hansi said. “Within five minutes, I put in an application. I didn’t think we’d get to the second round.”

Now, Tiny Tech is looking to test materials over the summer with a soft product launch early in 2017. The team’s first product line will be used in maternity wear to protect babies in utero. The material will somehow use the pattern technology, though Hansi cannot go into more detail about how that will work just yet. It will however be a more comfortable, more affordable and more effective EMR protection than current products on the market.

New to this year’s competition is the Intellectual Property Award, given to senior Hilton Bennett’s company Native Heights, which makes a device that simulates outdoor rock climbing in an indoor climbing environment. Local law firm Reaves Coley PLLC sponsored the prize.

Hilton Bennett, a senior, received the Intellectual Property Award for his company Native Heights, which makes a device that simulates outdoor rock climbing in an indoor climbing environment.
Hilton Bennett, a senior, received the Intellectual Property Award for his company Native Heights, which makes a device that simulates outdoor rock climbing in an indoor climbing environment.

Entries this year spanned a vast spectrum of concepts and ideas, from craft chocolate to mobile apps. “We had a lot of very, very different types of projects that ended up getting represented in the finals,” said David Holland, program director for venture creation at the da Vinci Center. “That speaks to the spirit of it; it’s not only about technology or only about consumer products. There’s the chance for people with very different ideas to have their ideas represented within the finals for the competition, therefore representing what happens at VCU.”

Students first submitted their ideas for the VC competition last November. Judges from the local business community winnowed down the entries from 60 to 21. From there, each participant submitted a more comprehensive plan, and eight finalists were selected in March to present at the competition. Judges chose winners based on market, technological and financial potential, and also how well the teams pitched their ideas.

The six other finalists also received a cash prize to develop their ideas and products further. Additionally, the da Vinci Center is working onreshaping the competition program so students will have resources and support to continue developing their projects and ideas after the event.

“In the future, we’d like to connect at least the winners in each division to some kind of program to help them further develop their idea more formally, like a pre-accelerator program,” Holland said.

Winners and finalists from the da Vinci Center’s 2016 Venture Creation Competition are:

Graduate Division

Winner: HeloSky Drones (G. Blue Crump, Robert Gilligan)

2nd Place: Balance (Eric Kim, Chip Stevens) 

3rd Place: Independent.ly (Nitin Dua, Steven Ebert, Chane Rennie)

Finalist: Flight (Matt Teachey, Matt Jin, James Frederick)

Undergraduate Division

Winner: Tiny Tech (Umar Hasni, Christopher Deloglos, Margaret Karles)

2nd Place: Upchurch Chocolate (Alex Burlingame, Alex Brito)

3rd Place: Native Heights (Hilton Bennett)

Finalist: Spolitic (Iliana Herrman, Abigail Hamilton)

 Reaves Coley PLLC Intellectual Property Award

Native Heights (Hilton Bennett)

For more information about the VCU Venture Creation program, visit the da Vinci Center web site.

Finalist, Graduate Division : Flight : Matt Teachey, Matt Jin, James Frederick. Helps people discover their local craft beer scene.
Click to view slideshow. Finalist, Graduate Division : Flight : Matt Teachey, Matt Jin, James Frederick. Helps people discover their local craft beer scene.

 

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Finalist, Graduate Division : Flight : Matt Teachey, Matt Jin, James Frederick. Helps people discover their local craft beer scene.
Click to view slideshow. Finalist, Graduate Division : Flight : Matt Teachey, Matt Jin, James Frederick. Helps people discover their local craft beer scene.