Winning Entries Wed Technology and Business in First Round of UMass Amherst Competition

December 14, 2007

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AMHERST, Mass. – A company that makes therapeutic devices for people suffering from anxiety disorders; a business to create robots that would assist with elder care and a plan that brings rental companies into the Internet age were three of the winning entries in the first round of a competition aimed at encouraging the development of business plans for hot new technologies conceived at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Prize money totaling $12,500 was awarded to the winning teams on Dec 6. At least $60,000 in prizes will be awarded on May 8 when the second phase of the Technology Innovation Challenge is judged. The entry deadline for phase two is Feb. 8, 2008. Participants from round one are welcome, as are new teams. Platinum sponsors of the challenge are the intellectual property law firm of Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C. and Saint-Gobain High-Performance Materials.

Entrants in the Technology Innovation Challenge, which is run by the College of Engineering, the Isenberg School of Management and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, are teams of students and alumni who work with faculty and external advisors to conceive a product and create a business plan for its commercialization. The competition is open to teams that include at least one full-time UMass undergraduate, graduate student or recent graduate. Twenty-eight teams entered last year, the winning team conceived a plan for an early failure warning system for levees that may have prevented or reduced damage from Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

The phase one first prize of $5,000 went to Rentabilities, founded by Alex and Andrew Cook. “The rental industry is one of the few retail channels that has not gone online,” sums up their proposal. “An alarming number of rental companies are still keeping track of their orders on paper.” Rentabilities is already providing rental companies with a sophisticated Web site presence, a built, tested, and proven online store and an integrated point-of-sale system that works in concert with the online store.

The People’s Choice Award of $2,500, voted on by the audience at the judging, was won by Therapeutic Systems, a concept thought up by mechanical engineering doctoral student Brian Mullen. Mullen’s plan aims to develop “novel therapeutic devices that improve mental healthcare and the quality of life for people with mental illness.” The concept proposes to work with at least two real products being developed in the department of mechanical and industrial engineering: a kind of “portable hug” for people suffering from anxiety disorders and a “sleeping blanket” for people with mental illness.

Four honorable mention awards of $1,250 each were distributed as well. These awards went to digitROBOTICS, which aims to commercialize robotic technology for elderly individuals living at home; Engineered Response, which proposes marketing the Wireless Impact Guardian (WIG), a recreational helmet with built-in impact-detection and location technology that can “call for help when you can’t”; Wideband Diagnostics, a plan to manufacture an imaging device that enables very early detection of melanomas and Prometheus Lifesciences, which proposes to sell CardioNICHE, a biotechnical matrix that harnesses the regenerative potential of stem cells to revascularize hearts damaged by cardiovascular disease.

This year the stakes for the popular competition are going up from $50,000 to at least $90,000, with an ultimate goal of over $100,000. The additional prize money is an added incentive for teams to enter the competition.

In addition to Wolf-Greenfield and Saint-Gobain High-Performance Materials, sponsors are Artiman Ventures, Joseph Bohan, Forge Partners, LCC, Eric and Candy Janszen, Kodiak Venture Partners, Scott Perry, VISTAGY, Stephen Dunne, Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting, Michael Turnstall ‘82, Revolabs, Tom Gray ‘87, Long River Ventures, Bart Stuck and Mary-Jane Cross ‘66. New sponsors are also more than welcome for phase two of the TIC this spring.

For more information about the TIC, consult the Web site at www.umass.edu/innovation.

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