Forward-Thinking Ideas Shine in Business Contest

Dec. 3, 2008

More than 80 students vied for $32,000 in cash prizes recently in the second annual UT Dallas Business Idea Competition.

Sponsored by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE), the event’s award-winning concepts included a guide to facilitate communication between Spanish-speaking patients and English-speaking health care professionals, a software system to safely store passwords, a biofuel alternative and more.

The event attracted 24 graduate-level teams and 13 undergraduate teams. Judges rated each team’s entry on originality, market opportunity, value proposition, competitive advantage and feasibility.

Ten undergraduate teams and 10 graduate teams competed in the semifinal rounds. Each team presented its concept for a new business before a panel of judges in the morning, with the top four in each level competing in final rounds in the afternoon.

“We saw some solid presentations today and heard some good ideas,” said Joseph C. Picken, IIE executive director. “As you would expect from a student competition, some of these ideas are not yet ready for significant investments, but we will work with these students going forward to help them refine their [concepts].”

Mavro Inc. won top undergraduate honors and a $7,500 prize for the  Emergency Medical Spanish Guide, designed to facilitate vital communication between non-Spanish speaking health care professionals and their Spanish-speaking patients. The idea was developed by George Mavromaras, a senior biology major, and his brother, Marco Mavromaras, a 2007 UT Dallas alum with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience. 

The team also included Robert (Rob) H. Lane III, a senior majoring in business and chemistry. George Mavromaras said he and Marco are emergency medical technicians who plan to become doctors. Their work emphasized the need to bridge the language barrier that often exists as the Spanish-speaking population grows.

“We decided that, instead of having doctors learn Spanish, we could create a series of questions in Spanish that the patients could answer with a yes or a no,” George Mavromaras said. “Instead of having to understand Spanish, the doctors would be able to ask more thorough questions.”

Mavro Inc. also won the Best Business Idea designation, adding $1,500 to the team’s prize money.

Personal Locomotion Tracker, a team including Kajal N. Parekh, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, and Jacob L. Wurzer, a sophomore majoring in logical engineering, won $1,000 and the award for Best Presentation in the undergraduate level. The team also won second place and $4,000 in the undergraduate competition.

Third-place honors and $2,000 in the undergraduate competition went to MentorMi, an online subscription service offering papers and peer-review essay revisions. Team members were Kevin Swali and Melissa Nguyen, who are both senior business administration majors.

At the graduate level, PassPro-Tech dominated the competition, winning Best Presentation and Best Business Idea in addition to being named the overall winner, giving the team total cash winnings of $10,000. The duo of Stephen David Dunlap and William Bennett (Ben) Morrow were two-thirds of last year’s undergraduate winning team, GreenGrid. PassPro-tech is a software system that securely stores passwords while at the same time eliminating threats from Internet hackers.

“We’re happy we were able to participate, because this is great practice for public speaking or making business presentations,” said Morrow, who is scheduled to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s in arts and technology at this semester. “We thought the other ideas were very good, so we’re honored that we won.”

Dunlap, an MBA student in international business and entrepreneurship who will complete his studies in the spring 2009, said the win gives them the confidence and credibility needed to introduce PassPro-Tech to the marketplace.

“That’s our next step,” Dunlap said. “We are going to start pitching this to medical organizations and universities.”

The second-place, $4,000 winner at the graduate level was BioFuel South Africa, which included two team members who are brothers, Yves Nkulikiye, a UT Dallas master’s student in management and administrative science, and Inene Ndikumvenayo, currently at student at Princeton University. They proposed the development of alternative fuel using Jatropha plants, which grow in abundance in South Africa.

Third-place honors and $2,000 went to Web Guru, whose team members were Nitish Krishna Murthy, Sanjay Patil and Abhijeet Sangwan, who are all three UT Dallas doctoral students in electrical engineering. They proposed an online learning program using social networks and human-language technology.

Dr. Picken said that, in addition to the strong ideas presented, he was impressed with the far-reaching representation of disciplines in the competition.

“Last year, [the competitors] were almost all School of Management students,” he said. “This year, we had significant representation from students in engineering, arts and technology, natural sciences and so on; so it’s spreading across campus. That’s what we hoped for.”
 
The IIE, established in 2006, is a collaborative initiative of the schools of Arts and Humanities, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, Management, and Natural Sciences and Mathematics. It is designed to promote cross-disciplinary academic and outreach programs across the university and throughout the community to support innovation and entrepreneurship in North Texas.


Media Contacts: Patricia Schoch, UT Dallas, (972) 883-6298, pschoch@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu

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Members of Mavro Inc., undergraduate-level winner, are Robert H. Lane III (left) and George Mavromaras (center) pictured with Dr. Joseph Picken, director of the UT Dallas Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which sponsored the contest.

  Members of PassPro-Tech, the graduate-level winning team, are Stephen David Dunlap (left) and William Bennett “Ben” Morrow.

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