$55,250 Awarded in the Annual UMass Innovation Challenge Finals

AMHERST, Mass. - FACTbase, a team developing technology that will improve microfossil identification to save the oil industry time and money, won the top prize of $25,000 at the University of Massachusetts Innovation Challenge final business plan competition on April 17.

Three other teams also received cash awards at the event: Plate Technologies won $14,000, Sneakers for Success won three prizes totaling $8,250 and Sweet Seat received $8,000.

• FACTbase features a technology that makes oil exploration faster, cheaper and easier by aiding microfossil identification and data collection. The team includes three UMass Amherst graduate students in geosciences: Serena Dameron of Kailua, Hawaii, Andy Fraass of Ann Arbor, Mich., and Chris Lowery of Chesterfield; geology alumna Kendra Clark of Westborough; physics and geosciences alumnus Steve Nathan of Amherst; and mathematics alumnus Jonathan Leachman of West Springfield. The faculty mentor is R. Mark Leckie, professor and head of the geosciences department.

• Plate Technologies aims to improve precision and outcome of cell culture assays by removing basic handling and operational errors in microplates. The team is made up of Sangram S. Parelkar of Mumbai, India, a postdoctoral research associate in polymer science and engineering, and Anshuli Patil, an MBA and master of public policy and administration student also from Mumbai. Their faculty mentor is Lawrence Schwartz, Isenberg Professor of Integrative Science and professor of biology.

• Sneakers for Success uses elements of sneaker culture to motivate, engage, inspire and empower underrepresented youth to stay in school and achieve academic success. Its founder is Samuel del Pilar of Flushing, N.Y., an undergraduate mechanical engineering major. Other members of Del Pilar’s team include Joshua Hernandez, a 2011 graduate in sport management from New York City; Abigail Richardson from Roslindale, undergraduate marketing major; Daniela Sanchez from Roxbury, undergraduate in microbiology; Harmonie Charland of Lawrence, undergraduate in journalism; and Jose Cotto from Worcester, architecture major. The faculty mentor is kinesiology professor Joseph Hamill and Shelly Perdomo, director of the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success, has also been a mentor to the team.

• Team Sweet Seat is working on novel design for more comfortable bicycle seats. It includes Leona Chan of Weston, an undergraduate in biology, and John Woodward of Saugus, an undergraduate in mechanical engineering. Their faculty mentor is Sundar Krishnamurty, professor of mechanical and industrial engineering.

In addition to $3,000 from the judges and the $250 audience choice prize, Sneakers for Success was honored with the first annual David Wolf Prize of $5,000, sponsored by the intellectual property law firm of Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C. The Wolf Prize honors UMass Amherst alumnus David Wolf, entering his sixth decade as an intellectual property lawyer with the firm his father, Ezekiel Wolf, founded in 1927. "We are pleased to award the first David Wolf prize to a team that epitomizes values that have always been important to David -- UMass, entrepreneurship, and a spirit of caring," said Edmund J. Walsh, shareholder at Wolf Greenfield, the UMass Innovation Challenge Founding Platinum Sponsor.

"The entire Innovation Challenge allowed me to meet great mentors who I see myself working with beyond my time at UMass in building the Sneakers for Success organization," said founder Samuel Del Pilar. "The prize money will give us the opportunity to work with education professionals in developing the curriculum that will then be used for our full program, which is planned for the fall."

"As a five-year sponsor of the UMass Innovation Challenge, we at Saint-Gobain have been enthused to see the significant progress in the entrepreneurship on campus," said Michael Mahoney, manager of North America Saint-Gobain External Venturing. "Five years ago, we were happy to see a couple of good business plans based on technology ideas. This year, we struggled to choose the best among almost a dozen new technologies and plans; it’s a great, enjoyable struggle."

Since 2005, the UMass Innovation Challenge has provided more than $480,000 in awards to 53 different student-led teams. It is designed to help current students and young alumni who have innovative business ideas to develop business plans and move products closer to market.

"Like every good entrepreneurial effort, each year we strive for a stronger Innovation Challenge. This year has been one of exciting growth," said Michael Malone, the Ronnie and Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor and vice chancellor for research and engagement. "Our new MinutePitch events attracted participation from more students than ever before. It is especially gratifying to see this great campus-wide participation from many disciplines carry through to this evening’s outstanding student teams; it is their passion, expertise, and appetite for innovation that was the foundation of an exceptional final competition."

The Innovation Challenge is supported entirely with private funds donated by Eugene M. and Ronnie Isenberg and the following sponsors: Wolf Greenfield; Saint-Gobain; Cantor Colburn LLP; CISCO; Raytheon; SciDose; Vistagy; Stephen Dunne ‘89; Provenance Venture Partners; Michael Tunstall ’82, and Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting.