UMass Innovation Challenge Awards $55,250 to Three Teams in Finals

AMHERST, Mass. – The University of Massachusetts Innovation Challenge final business plan competition has awarded $55,250 to three competing teams. Fetch Rewards won the top prize of $30,000. VideoConversation won a total of $15,000 at the event while Crowd Solar received $10,000.
Since 2005, the UMass Innovation Challenge has provided more than $500,000 in awards to 65 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. This year’s final round competition was held April 17.
The top winner, Fetch Rewards is a mobile phone application that simplifies and streamlines the process of shopping. Fetch Rewards turns the mobile phone’s camera into a bar code scanner that automatically brings up coupons for items and speeds checkout. Team members are Curt Owen, of Boxborough, who is pursuing an undergraduate degree in management, and Wes Schroll, from Acton, an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin Madison. The faculty adviser is James Theroux, Flavin Professor of Entrepreneurship and director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Isenberg School of Management. The team also won the $250 audience choice prize.
VideoConversation won two prizes. In addition to $10,000 from the judges, the team was honored with the second annual David Wolf Prize of $5,000. VideoConversation’s patented technology enables videoconferencing that automatically shows interpersonal and non-verbal communication in a smooth and natural way. The system identifies and zooms to show all speakers and displays them with the best possible camera angle. Its founder is Mark Buckler, a master’s degree candidate in electrical engineering, from Wenham. He is working with faculty mentor Wayne Burleson, electrical and computer engineering.
The David Wolf Prize is sponsored by the intellectual property law firm of Wolf, Greenfield & Sacks, P.C. The prize honors the memory of UMass Amherst alumnus David Wolf, and his 60-year career as an intellectual property lawyer and leader of the firm founded by his father, Ezekiel Wolf, in 1927. “There’s a lot of diversity in the ideas put forth in the Innovation Challenge, and you get to hear from a lot of promising young entrepreneurs and technologists,” said Ryan MacDougall, senior manager of business development at Wolf Greenfield, the UMass Innovation Challenge Founding Platinum Sponsor. “Listening to people who are passionate about what they do is very stimulating. I would do that fulltime if I could.”
Crowd Solar saves community institutions money on electricity and allows investors to receive competitive rates of return while helping with the adoption of clean, renewable energy throughout the community. This is done by providing an online platform for people and businesses to invest in local solar projects on community buildings. The team is made up of alumni Chris Bent, of Acton, and Justin Timlin, of Northampton, along with Patrick Holmes, of Park Ridge, Ill., an undergraduate in environmental science and earth systems. The team’s faculty mentor is Robert Hyers of mechanical and industrial engineering.
“This year’s Innovation Challenge was the most competitive yet,” says Michael Malone the Ronnie and Eugene Isenberg Distinguished Professor and vice chancellor for research and engagement at UMass Amherst. “We were very pleased to have students from all parts of UMass Amherst as well as to have our first team from another UMass campus. And we are very grateful to Valley Venture Mentors for their work with several of the teams. We are especially pleased to be working with leaders from the MassChallenge and the Northeast Cleantech Open to fast track promising teams into those competitions and connecting directly to the broader innovation ecosystem.”
“As a UMass Amherst alumnus and someone who deals in the start-up world everyday, it’s very exciting and rewarding to see entrepreneurial energy taking root at UMass Amherst,” said Jerry O’Connor, a UMass Innovation Challenge judge and partner at Saul Ewing LLP.
The UMass Innovation Challenge campus partners are the College of Engineering, the College of Natural Sciences, the Isenberg School of Management and the UMass Innovation Institute. The contest’s financial support comes from Eugene M. and Ronnie Isenberg; Wolf Greenfield; Saint-Gobain; Cantor Colburn LLP; CISCO; alumnus Steven Luby; Raytheon; Saul Ewing; alumnus William Firestone; an anonymous faculty donor; alumnus Stephen Dunne; Provenance Venture Partners; alumnus Michael Tunstall and Karen Lauter Utgoff Consulting.