Venture Creation Competition: Finding the next big business idea

Students vied for cash prizes in competition hosted by the da Vinci Center for Innovation

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Students at Virginia Commonwealth University put on their thinking caps and developed ideas, concepts and technologies for real business ventures in the 2014 Venture Creation Competition.

Hosted by the VCU da Vinci Center for Innovation, the competition offers student participants from across the university the opportunity to learn firsthand what venture creation means. The winners of the campuswide competition were announced April 23 as part of VCU Research Weeks.

The competition began earlier this semester with student teams submitting executive summaries of ideas, concepts and/or technologies for a business venture. Finalists were selected in two divisions – undergraduate and graduate – to give 20-minute presentations to an esteemed panel of judges followed by 10 minutes of questions and answers.

Undergraduate division winners In the undergraduate division, One Step at A Time, comprising VCU School of Business students Calvin Peterson, Kaitlin Taylor and Wallace Pitts and School of Engineering student Elliot Roth, won $4,000 as the first-place finisher in this year’s competition. Their product was a cushion, called Cush, specifically designed for wheelchair users to help aid in the prevention of pressure ulcers.

“We were up against a lot of great competition,” said Peterson, a member of the winning team. “Without a great team, we wouldn’t have been able to win. It started off as a class project. Being that I suffer from pressure ulcers, and each of my teammates knew about pressure ulcers, we all joined a team and said we should combat that problem. We’re going to take our winnings and just invest it back into the company.”

Team PENdulum received $3,000 as the second-place winner. VCU College of Humanities and Sciences student Sahil Aggarwal presented a business plan for a nonprofit committed to empowering HIV-positive youth in Mbabane, Swaziland, through long-term written connections with U.S. college students.

Placing third was mySound, which won $2,000. Team members included College of Humanities and Sciences student George Pottanat, School of the Arts students Dylan Halpern and Milgo Yonis, and School of Engineering student Tucket Wash. The group developed hands-free music recommendation software.

Two other teams were awarded $1,000 each as finalists in the competition. RendeZoo, which includes School of Business student John Cannady and VCU alumnus Georges Aguehounde, introduced a mobile/web software application that allows users to post and discover local events as well as link local businesses with patrons. G33K3D Industries, which includes School of Business students Justin Sawyer and Marvin Elliott, proposed a video game currency exchange.

Graduate division winners Tagather, developed by VCU Brandcenter student Karen Hymes, took top prize in the graduate division, winning $4,000 for a social shopping platform that allows consumers to tag recent purchases in images they take to earn rewards in the form of coupons and gift cards.

“I know the work everyone put in, I know the talent that is in every team, and I know them as friends. So, I am very overwhelmed. I am still not sure of the differentiating factor because all the ideas were very, very good,” Hymes said. “I’m a creative technologist, but I had a learning curve to get to this point and every book or resource recommended, I bought and read it.”

In second place, Team Vida won $3,000 for its concept of transforming “throw away” produce into delicious, all-natural fruit and vegetable bars. Team members included VCU Brandcenter students Jonathan Sekerak, Garrick Sheldon and Plautz Rick.

Memento placed in third place with a smart wristband that connects directly to a networking app and keeps a record of the people a user meets through a handshake. VCU Brandcenter student Toliver Roebuck, Demian Kendall, Lauren Ulmer and VCU alumna Skylar Roebuck won $2,000 for their concept.

Finalists Gametrotter and Southern Cream Tea won $1,000 each in the graduate division. Gametrotter is a mobile-based social network that allows users to search for friends using character names, user names or real names. Team members included VCU Brandcenter students Samuel Hensley, CJ Milhoan, Garrett Lyons, Chad Woods and Nelson Johnson.

Southern Cream Tea, a ready-to-drink beverage, included team members Marisa Impellizzeri and Katie Long from the VCU Brandcenter.

VCU’s da Vinci Center for Innovation is a collaboration of VCU schools of the arts, business, and engineering and the College of Humanities and Sciences. Through its programs, such as the undergraduate Certificate in Product Innovation and the Master of Product Innovation, the center catalyzes interdisciplinary innovation and entrepreneurship as it prepares students for the 21st Century workforce and supports development initiatives for partner organizations.


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