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Published November 16, 2016
Six innovative businesses -- ranging from a company that engineers and manufactures custom lightweight components to minimize vehicle weight, to one that helps poultry farms convert to cage-free operations -- created by University of Wyoming students were selected to receive seed funding through the Fisher Innovation Challenge.
The Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC), a business development program at UW, announced the results of its Fisher Innovation Challenge Pitch Day event Nov. 10. The WTBC has business incubators in Laramie, Casper and Sheridan.
Administered by the UW Office of Research and Economic Development, the WTBC is a not-for-profit business incubator that provides entrepreneurs with the expertise, networks and tools necessary for success. The WTBC’s main office is on the UW campus.
“We created the Fisher Innovation Challenge to catalyze student-led startup businesses and provide the opportunity to apply for seed money to take the business past the concept stage and into real-world first article builds and initial sales,” says Jon Benson, CEO of the WTBC. “We were blown away by the initial applications from UW students. We narrowed the field of 40 down to 11 finalists.”
WTBC COO Christine Langley and WTBC Assistant Director Dave Bohling began working with all 11 teams to develop business concepts and prepare them for Pitch Day.
A $100,000 seed fund was made possible through the financial gift of Donne Fisher, and was matched by the UW Office of Research and Economic Development. Additional funding for the first year of the innovation challenge also was provided by UW’s School of Energy Resources (SER).
“In our experience assisting startups in Wyoming, oftentimes the barrier entrepreneurs have to cross is a small amount of money to get them going,” Benson says “Most of the time, this is between $20,000-$25,000. The SER really stepped up and helped us ensure that we could get these student companies over that barrier if they qualified.”
Eight finalist teams presented on Pitch Day at WTBC’s Laramie incubator before a panel of judges. In addition to Benson, the panel included Jerad Stack, former CEO of Firehole Technologies; Mike Kmetz, CEO of Teton Composites; UW College of Engineering and Applied Science Professor Dennis Coon; Davona Douglass, director of UW’s Research Products Center; and John Dick, director of the WTBC’s Sheridan Area incubator.
“We wanted a strong mix of experienced entrepreneurs and economic developers, mixed with engineering and intellectual property experts,” Langley says. “These judges have followed the student-led companies from the beginning and have the experience, knowledge and connections needed to help grow these companies going forward. The companies encompass a diverse set of concepts, and this group of judges is familiar with the hurdles each of them will encounter.”
Six finalist teams qualified, and each of them will receive one year of free rent in the incubator as well as the opportunity to approach the Fisher Innovation Fund for startup capital.
“Each company has different needs for start-up, and the goal of the fund is to enable all of the teams the best possible start we can give them,” Benson says. “This is a model that has worked well for the WTBC in Casper, where we launched our Casper Start-Up Challenge earlier this year. We are currently raising funds to launch a similar Sheridan Start-Up Challenge in 2017.”
The six qualifying Fisher Innovation Challenge companies are:
-- Emily Beagle, a second-year mechanical engineering doctoral student from Sheridan, is founder of Torre Roasts. The company provides a foundation for coffee connoisseurs to improve their coffee experience by providing a home coffee roaster with sophisticated temperature control and roast profile specifications in an easy-to-use, sleek design. This roaster targets existing home roasters through improved control features, and novice home roasters through user-friendly software and design features. Additionally, Torre Roasts delivers other coffee products, including green coffee beans, specialty roasted coffee and fine coffee accessories.
-- Dakota Roberson, a fourth-year electrical engineering doctoral student from Rock Springs, is founder of Aktzin Systems. Aktzin Systems has developed complex control algorithms, which couple to fast-energy storage devices (batteries, flywheels, etc.), damping power fluctuations. The result is a steady, dependable source available for dispatch at the grid operator’s discretion. The smart power grid of the future is complicated by the addition of significant quantities of renewable power sources, such as solar generators. This is due to random, dramatic fluctuation in power output from such sources.
-- Kyle Kuhn, a first-year mechanical engineering master’s student from Laramie, is founder of Ullr Performance Parts. The company engineers and manufactures custom lightweight components to minimize vehicle weight. In order to maximize performance of motor sports vehicles, the power-to-weight ratio of the vehicle must be maximized. Advanced material systems, combined with optimized designs, are used to minimize weight in rotating systems and static systems alike. Ullr Performance Parts will launch by offering custom lightweight solutions for the snowmobile industry.
-- Pourya Nikoueeyan, a third-year mechanical engineering doctoral student from Iran, is founder of Resono Pressure Systems. Software, as a service, and purchased hardware will provide an innovative way to measure unsteady pressure in the areas of fluid dynamics and aerodynamics. The software controls the data acquisition procedure and contains other unique features. The target market is wind tunnel testing facilities, and the automotive and aircraft industries.
-- Jaycey Lindsey, a UW senior from Wright majoring in animal science, is founder of Pralee Eggs & Hatchery. This poultry breeding and supply company focuses on helping large poultry farms convert to a cage-free system and preserve their high levels of poultry production. Pralee supplies the tools and expertise needed to breed personal and commercial flocks of poultry at a higher efficiency than natural settings, cutting the cost and noise hassle of having to house male birds.
-- Levente Pap, a third-year chemistry doctoral student from Budapest, Hungary, is founder of Lev’sonic. The company developed a hardware and software platform that uses voice recognition to convert vocal medical, laboratory or any other description data into a digital medical or laboratory report. The hardware has extra features, such as a gas sensor to provide a safe working environment. A differentiator is the physical package that will be hermetic and stand up to harsh chemical environments while capturing voice data. The target customer is pharmaceutical or chemical research staff, medical professionals and hospitals.