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Published May 15, 2019
Sixteen innovative businesses -- that range from a company that works like the Indeed job site for graduate students to find opportunities at universities to a business that looks to insure outdoor sports equipment -- created by University of Wyoming graduate and undergraduate students are finalists that will compete for $125,000 in seed funding to grow their businesses.
Team members will make their presentations during the Fisher Innovation Launchpad in late October. The Fisher finalists will work on their business concepts throughout the summer and early fall.
“In the past three years, the Fisher Innovation Launchpad has created more than 20 companies and created 37 jobs with the $375,000 in funding. But these private funds only stimulate more funding into these companies,” says Dave Bohling, director of UW’s Wyoming Technology Business Center. “One of our companies, from the first year of the program, is waiting to hear on a Phase Two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant in excess of a million dollars.”
The Fisher Innovation Launchpad, which began in 2016 as the Fisher Innovation Challenge, is for new, independent businesses -- in the seed, startup or early-growth stages -- focused on technology or innovation. The seed fund was made possible through the financial gift of Donne Fisher, the Launchpad’s namesake, and was matched by the UW Office of Research and Economic Development.
The Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC), a business development program of UW that has business incubators in Laramie, Casper and Sheridan, is 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 low cost of initial investment per job, combined with helping UW graduates realize that there is just as much opportunity here in Wyoming as elsewhere, if not more, is why we believe this is the most effective economic development program in the state,” says Fred Schmechel, assistant director of the WTBC. “The program continues to grow every year and, this year, we have our largest cohort of Fisher finalists in the four years of the program.”
The qualifying businesses named finalists are:
-- Physics-Based Cardiovascular Simulation, founded by Mohammad Mehri, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical engineering from Tehran, Iran. The company will model cardiac and general artery blockages (stenosis) by using complex computational fluid dynamics models to assist doctors and surgeons in choosing the best patient options, such as stent size and shape, angioplasty and surgery. Medical outcomes for patients would be improved.
-- CellSight, founded by Hayden Moritz, a Longmont, Colo., computer science senior. Using existing cellphone unique identifiers (MAC address) that are publicly transmitted, the company will show how shoppers enter business establishments; where they approximately go within the establishment; and how long shoppers stay. This will provide business owners with market validation for their inventory and store placement, and seeming “telemetry” for restauranteurs.
-- EasyApply, founded by Negar Sami, a Noinord, Iran, computer science graduate student. There currently is no straightforward method for potential graduate students to find consolidated information on graduate programs, financial support or even openings within programs without doing singular searches on specific university and principal investigator websites. Conversely, there is no site where principal investigators can readily advertise their group openings. EasyApply looks to build a single site for both, essentially an “Indeed” site for students.
-- EORScreen, founded by Evan Egenolf, an Indianapolis, Ind., Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering, and Vladimir Alvarado, head of UW’s Department of Chemical Engineering. EORScreen proposes to aggregate data through a modeling tool to provide better objective and quantitative tools for determining which oil fields might benefit from enhanced oil recovery methods, and which methods might be most appropriate.
-- Fitter, founded by Marcus Cantu, a Pinedale computer science junior. Fitter is a digital assistant to track workouts, diet and other factors to enhance the overall fitness experience by both users and trainers.
-- Gear Guarantee, founded by Dawson Osborn, of Sheridan, who will graduate from UW this semester with a law degree and has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and physics; and Ian Smith, of Jackson, who also will receive a law degree from UW this semester. Smith also has an undergraduate degree in business and finance from UW. Gear Guarantee is developing risk-analysis tools for insuring outdoor equipment, ranging from skis and snowboards to bicycles.
-- GruffWare, founded by Hud Wahab, a postdoctoral researcher in chemical engineering from Subang Jaya, Malaysia; and Ana Paula Martins Leandro, a Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, master’s degree candidate in chemical engineering. GruffWare will incorporate graphene and/or graphene oxide into textiles, with the current proposal targeting the manufacture of conductive textiles to be used in conjunction with polyethylene barriers in produced water ponds. The GruffWare product would be electrically probed to find leaks in the pond liner.
-- Amped Up Hearing Helmets, founded by Jennica Fournier, a Cheyenne MBA student; Kelli Pederson, a Basin/Cheyenne master’s degree student in natural sciences; and Odea Nelson, from Sheridan, who received an MBA and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, both from UW. Both active children and adults, who have had cochlear implants, retain a hardware vulnerability in their external cochlear devices if not protected. Hearing Helmets are designed with an inner helmet liner that can accommodate the external hardware without degrading helmet performance.
-- HempChain, founded by computer science students Carlton Wilcox and William Kirkpatrick, both of Laramie; and James Schuchardt, of Cheyenne. HempChain is targeting secure tracking of hemp seed and products in the recently legalized hemp markets in Wyoming. Legally, accurate tracking is important, and the team will look outside the state for secondary markets after launching.
-- GridBuddy, founded by Slade Sheaffer, a Laramie architectural engineering senior; Jon Gardzelewski, a UW lecturer in civil and architectural engineering; and Anthony Denzer, associate professor and department head of civil and architectural engineering. Renewable energy credits are currently not traded on any open market for many reasons. The UW team will design a methodology where both buyers and sellers can exchange demand for capacity while bypassing the need to become a utility transaction.
-- Neural AgTech, founded by Connor Leyshon, a Parker, Colo., computer science and mechanical engineering senior; and Kevin Medders, a Buffalo mechanical engineering senior. Neural AgTech’s solution is to use the existing technology of aquaponic farming and add artificial intelligence (AI) management to monitor and optimize output. This AI would instruct simple, stationary robots to move plants through the floating raft system as they grow. The AI also would constantly monitor the overall agricultural health of the system to recognize small problems such as ammonia increases and biofouling, and solve them before they turn into major issues. Additionally, it would couple concepts like energy cogeneration into the economics of plant operations.
-- NextStepData, founded by Vladimar Ulyanov, of Zheleznodorozhny, Russia, an economics and finance junior; Brandon Gomes, of Georgetown, Guyana, an economics junior; and Sheldon Chen, of Yangon, Myanmar, a statistics senior. Using big-data analysis methods and AI, the company will build a financial model that is predictive in addressing both small and large trends in financial markets. This model would be made available, after validation, to mainly small investors on a subscription basis.
-- PigTracker, founded by Victor Anthony, of Nigeria, and Jake Koney, of Accra, Ghana, both chemical engineering seniors. “Pigs” are devices launched inside an oil pipeline for both detection of flaws and cleaning out pipes and pipelines. PigTracker will develop an app that tracks the location of a noninstrument “pig” and then downloads telemetry data into the app for analysis of problems, such as flows. The app is targeted at small to midsized oil companies who do not have the resources to do more comprehensive pipeline tracking.
-- SLD Photonics, founded by Joseph Murphy, a Buffalo postdoctoral researcher; Subash Kattel, a Ph.D. candidate in physics and astronomy from Jhapa, Nepal; and William Rice, a UW assistant professor of physics and astronomy. SLD Photonics has discovered a material/device structure that effectively has a flat response across an extremely wide light frequency region -- from UV through infrared. This can then be used to eliminate redundancy and improve accuracy in detectors commonly employed by researchers throughout the world.
-- TAB Alliance, founded by Raylyn Pettigrew, of Casper, and Moriah Miller, from Powell, both computer science seniors. TAB Alliance takes on the issue of disparity in maintaining interest of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), particularly computer science, as students matriculate through the public school system. The company intends to develop methods and curriculum to enrich teaching, and to monitor progress across all demographics in schools for computer science. The company would work with both teachers and students as separate demographics within a single market.
-- VosoKey, founded by Matthew Poremba, a Bedford, N.H., computer science junior. Recognizing that many people want their children to learn music but, at the same time, might be unwilling to make a big investment in a piano or other musical instrument, or that children respond to gamification in teaching, VosoKey will assist with those issues. VosoKey is an at-home teacher solution accomplished through augmented reality. A game-like nature would help capture people's interest, and users could track progression through scoring mechanisms. Initial target development would be at piano or keyboard lessons.
Funded teams will receive business counseling, one year of free rental space in the WTBC incubator and the opportunity to approach the Fisher Innovation Fund for startup capital. Remaining teams not funded through the program will still receive space, rent-free, in the incubator for a year, and business counseling. Other opportunities in the state, such as Kickstart Wyoming, have had an increasing impact on the unfunded teams continuing, Schmechel says.