Convenience is King at Business Idea Competition
Winning Entrants Find Innovative Uses for Smart-Phone Technology
Technology and convenience intersected at the fourth annual UT Dallas Business Idea Competition, offering some clues about the future direction of business innovation.
Sponsored by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) at UT Dallas, the contest drew 116 entrants organized into 46 teams. They competed for $18,250 in cash prizes.
A roster of 39 judges with impressive credentials — including Philip Wheat, an information technology architect with Microsoft Corp., David Matthews and Joel Fontenot, principals of Trailblazer Capital, and Richardson Mayor Gary Slagel – rewarded the first-place winners of both the undergraduate and graduate competitions for ideas that used smart-phone technology to simplify consumers’ lives.
The School of Management hosted the Nov. 19 contest.
UT Dallas Full-Time MBA students Corey Egan and Swapnil Bora won the graduate division and the $4,000 first-place prize for the iLumi SmartBulb, an interactive LED indoor lighting system controlled wirelessly by a smart phone. Their polished presentation, which began with an audiovisual introduction and included background music, also netted them the Most Effective Presentation award. They plan to use their $500 prize from that to move their idea forward.
“We talked about it previously,” Egan said. “Any contribution that we obtained from the competition would go back into the company. At early stages of a startup, it’s important to really manage your money and funding, because oftentimes that’s the one limitation to getting it off the ground. We’ve made a commitment to moving the idea forward and exploring our opportunities.”
Many of the undergraduate presentations were nearly as polished as those in the graduate competition– with impressive ideas to match.
Laura Maczka, executive director at Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship, was one of the judges. Her organization, which serves youths in low-income neighborhoods, holds a high-school entrepreneurship competition. She found it fascinating to see the difference between high school and college competitions.
“The sophistication level goes up,” Maczka said. “This idea of entrepreneurship as a viable way to make a living versus just graduating from a university and going to work for a major corporation, which isn’t really the world anymore ― I think it’s great that the university offers this and actually empowers these kids to start thinking, ‘Maybe this idea that I came up with is not going to work, but the next one might.’ ”
The best of the undergraduate ideas came from Team Rhone, whose members were David Evans, a junior computer science major, and Michael Ellsworth, a junior in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University. Their winning idea, which they named Rhone, is a smart phone-based universal remote control that can operate devices such as TVs, Blu-Ray and DVD players, DVRs, and computers. Their winning entry netted them $4,000 in prize money.
Their idea uses wireless Bluetooth technology to send information from smart phones to a hardware device that then sends infrared signals to the entertainment devices. The app has a slew of features, including web-based backup, friend sync, re-arrangeable virtual control buttons and an interactive TV guide to change channels. It even has GPS sync, which allows users to move from room to room because it automatically recognizes the hardware devices in each room.
“We had a good idea, we worked hard on it, and we had a lot of enthusiasm,” Ellsworth said. “We feel that we put a lot of effort into it.”
In addition to the prize money, the first-place winners in each division received one month’s free office space near downtown Dallas at CoHabitat, a shared workspace for developers, creatives and entrepreneurs.
All semi-finalists and finalists also qualified for Microsoft’s BizSpark program, where they will be able to connect with a global network of investors and network partners.
“The business idea competition is about ideas, not just business plans,” said Dan Bochsler, a School of Management faculty member who works with the IIE to develop cross-disciplinary academic studies and extend the reach of IIE in the community and region. “We focus on business concepts, probably more so than others. As a consequence, it allows the students and those involved to spend more time dealing with the key things up-front, the success factors that are there.”
A number of individual and corporate sponsors contributed prize money for the competition, including Jackie Kimzey, BKD LLP, Dynamex, SPlus Technologies, Trailblazer Capital, TransGlobal Technologies, Inc. and Wischmeyer Benefit Partners.
Corey Egan (left) and Swapnil Bora won the graduate-student compeitition with an interactive LED indoor lighting system controlled wirelessly by a smart phone.
First place in the undergraduate contest went to (from left) David Evans and Michael Ellsworth, shown here with faculty member Dan Bochsler.
First Place ($4,000) in the undergraduate competition went to Team Rhone, which consisted of David Evans, a junior computer science major, and Michael Ellsworth, a junior in aerospace engineering at Texas A&M University. Their winning idea was for Rhone, a smart phone-based universal remote control that can operate devices such as TVs, DVD players, DVRs and computers.
First Runner-Up ($2,500) and Most Effective Presentation ($500) went to the members of Team GMR, who presented their idea for a low-cost International Medical Resort based in Belize. Team members, all School of Management students, were Yesenia Sanchez, Waqas Hussain, Braulio Gonzalez and Raul Gomez Rueda.
Second Runner-Up ($1,750) was Team Preamble, juniors John P. Feltz and Melanie Rich-Wittrig, both computer science majors. Their idea was for a Web service that lets university academic advisers upload information about courses and requirements that students can use to make a degree plan.
First Place ($4,000) and Most Effective Presentation ($500) in the graduate competition went to Team iLumi, made up of Corey Egan and Swapnil Bora, both School of Management Full-Time MBA students. They presented an idea for the iLumi SmartBulb, a smart phone-based interactive LED wireless indoor lighting system.
First Runner-Up ($2,500) went to MBA students Andrew Cyders and Ryan Walter, who presented their idea for High Strung Investments, a company that allows investors to subsidize musicians who might not otherwise be able to afford top-end musical instruments that increase dramatically in value, such as Stradivarius violins.
Second Runner-Up ($1,750) was awarded to Addams Inc., led by MBA student Jason Addams and Jestin Alancheril, a student in the School of Management’s graduate healthcare management program. Their idea was for a product they call E=(NT)², a note-taking tablet using electronic ink technology that is geared toward students and law-enforcement officers.
Third Runner-Up ($750) went to Innovate, a team consisting of Bayaraa Zorigt, an SOM graduate finance student, and UT Dallas alumnus Chaitanya Vaidya, who earned a bachelor’s degree in software engineering. They presented an idea for a mobile app called Intelli-Calendar that links personal calendars on iPhones, iPads and iPods with the Internet. If a lunch date is entered on the calendar, for instance, the app offers suggestions for nearby restaurants.
Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].