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September 21, 2017

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September 21, 2017

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Student Startups Profit From Competition

Dec. 13, 2016

After watching his younger brother suffer from anaphylactic shock while undergoing an allergy skin test, Benjamin Rubanov was determined to develop a safer, more-effective test, an idea that eventually led to a first-place finish at the UT Dallas Business Idea Competition finals.

Rubanov and Samir Rahi, both freshmen, won $15,000 for a business concept they call Skin Aware. Their product detects allergic reactions using much smaller doses of allergens than other tests currently on the market. Based on patent-pending technology developed by Dr. Walter Voit at the UT Dallas Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute, Skin Aware employs nanoliter-size doses. Other tests involve allergens measured in milliliters — quantities much higher than those in naturally occurring exposures. The lower dose reduces the risk of serious side effects such as the shock Rubanov’s brother experienced.

Rubanov and Rahi prevailed over six teams at the 10th annual contest organized by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) at the Naveen Jindal School of Management. The 2016 competition was made possible by sponsors Axxess, DFW Excellerator, Polsinelli and Silicon Valley Bank.

The judging panel included three UT Dallas alumni —  John Olajide BS’04, a 2016 UT Dallas Distinguished Alumni Award recipient and Axxess president and CEO; Michael Peticolas BA’95, who owns and operates Peticola’s Brewing Company; and Heidi Rasmussen BS’92, co-founder and COO of freshbenies. Her husband, Reid Rasmussen, co-founder and CEO of freshbenies; and Chris Dahlander, founder and CEO of Snappy Salads, rounded out the panel.

This year, judging criteria focused more on viability and less on execution of the presentation. Other factors included clearly defining a market opportunity or unmet need, developing a revenue-generating business model and presenting a unique value proposition including benefits and competitive advantages.

“The objective of many of the IIE programs is to support, provide resources and encourage the creation and launch of new businesses,” said Jeremy Vickers, IIE’s executive director. “This new judging emphasis encourages the students to orient their story and actions toward the launch, not the theory of launching a new business.”

Second place went to Unibees, an app that has been used by UT Dallas students for the past several months to find free food at campus events. Abinav Varma Kalidindi, Sanjay Kurani and Chandra Kiran Achanta, all graduate students at the Jindal School, collected a $5,000 second-place prize.

Jindal School graduate students Tom Hauser and Brandon Burgess took third place and $2,500 in prize money for Geekstyr, a dating/community platform that caters to geeks and nerds.

Even though most of the teams had a heavy technological focus in common, Heidi Rassmusen said that technology did not play a role in determining the winners.

“It was more about what products best told us who their target market was,” she said. “The winners best proved the point that it was a viable product for that market and that they could access that market through a marketing plan of some sort. It was less about technology and more about good old-fashioned business knowledge.”

Another significant change in the competition this year was the elimination of undergraduate and graduate divisions.

“For years we have seen an insignificant difference in the quality of their business ideas and execution,” Vickers said. “This year, we opened it up so that they compete equally, and we have seen a strong representation from both undergraduate and graduate students. That an undergraduate team took top honors this year demonstrates just how competitive the teams have become, no matter what their classification.”

Other finalists included:

  • Converse VR, which offers virtual and augmented reality games and experiences for middle and high school students to improve skills and engagement through experiential learning.
  • Dallas Central, a multiuse community and activity space near downtown Dallas.
  • IcingAid, a reusable 3-D cake decorating tool.
  • TXpertise, an online tool that helps technical experts, IT recruiters and managers share, skill match, validate, search for and manage professional certifications.

Media Contact: Jimmie Markham, Naveen Jindal School of Management, (972) 883-5079, [email protected]
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected]


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