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On Thursday, student entrepreneurs at the University of Virginia won $50,000 in prize money and in-kind services for businesses focused on health, fitness and wellbeing from the cradle to the grave.
Ten startups competed in the final stage of the UVa Entrepreneurship Cup, held in the Dome Room of the Rotunda. The “E-Cup” is an annual three-part series of pitch competitions for UVa undergraduates and graduate students. Students at UVa’s College at Wise also are eligible to compete.
Erik Quigg and Fritz Steuer won first place and $20,000 for their startup, Soteria Transporters. The fourth-year aerospace engineering majors are designing a neonatal transport incubator called the Kestrel.
Quigg said his sister, a neonatal intensive care nurse, told him about the serious risks that premature babies face when they are airlifted from one hospital to another.
A 2010 study by physicians at George Washington University Medical Center found that more than 27 percent of low-birth weight infants who underwent inter-hospital transports between 1997 and 2004 nationwide incurred brain hemorrhages — twice the rate of those who stayed in the hospital where they were born.
The acceleration and vibration of a helicopter in flight, and high blood pressure from psychological stress are thought to be potential causes of the brain damage.
“I thought it was pretty mind-blowing that nobody had solved this problem,” Quigg said.
Quigg and Steuer built a plywood prototype of their transport carriage after getting input from NICU personnel at UVa and other medical centers. Their final product would be made of carbon fiber.
This summer, Quigg and Steuer will participate in the incubator program at UVa’s i.Lab to further develop the incubator component of the Kestrel, which will be outfitted with noise-cancelling technology.
Yedea Telemedicine took second place and $15,000 in prize money. The social enterprise aims to expand access to healthcare in developing nations, starting with Ghana.
Co-founder Ted Obi, a fourth-year in the Department of Psychology’s distinguished majors program, spent seven weeks in Ghana last summer to interview healthcare providers and patients.
Ghana has only one physician per 15,259 residents, Obi said. This scarcity often forces patients to wait in hospitals for five or six hours to see a doctor, he said. Many patients also have difficulty affording transportation to a doctor’s appointment.
“The worst thing about it is that they have to decide between going to see a doctor or getting money from work that day,” Obi said.
Yedea Telemedicine plans to create call centers staffed by nurses who would conduct phone interviews to determine whether a patient needs to see a doctor. Patients then would schedule a video conference with a doctor at a nearby Yedea Telemedicine clinic instead of waiting in line at a hospital.
Obi said patients would pay $2 to $6 per month to subscribe to the telemedicine service, depending their income.
Yedea Telemedicine plans to use prize money from the UVa E-Cup and other pitch competitions to build its first pilot clinic later this year. The startup has recruited more than 25 doctors to participate in the program.
“This success is inspiring me to keep on finding innovative solutions to different problems,” Obi said.
Two startups tied for third place and will split a $10,000 prize.
Division 1-On-1 Trainers is an online platform that markets personal training services from NCAA Division I student-athletes.
“We are the only NCAA-approved platform allowing athletes to make money with their sports expertise,” said Grant Sirlin, a second-year student who founded Division 1-On-1 Trainers with classmate Jared Vishno.
Division 1-On-1 Trainers has crafted its business model carefully to comply with NCAA bylaws. The company cannot feature the names or images of student-athletes on its website, and personal training sessions are not allowed to take place at university athletic facilities.
The other third-place winner, Identify, aids families in closing the online accounts of a loved one after their death. Identify is offering the service through partnerships with funeral homes.
“Families are burdened with this project that drags on for months, when they would rather focus on more important things,” said Michael Brophy, Identify co-founder and a Darden student.
The 2017-2018 E-Cup began with a concept competition in December and continued with a “Discovery” competition in February, which had contestants present plans for identifying customers and “de-risking” their business.
For the final stage, “Launch!”, contestants had to demonstrate serious commitment to their ventures, and convince judges that it was sustainable and capable of growth.
Marta Noriega, director of finance at We Believers LLC and a graduate of the Darden School of Business, was one of four judges at Thursday’s pitch competition. She said the panel considered many factors when choosing the winners, including the strength of their founding teams, the novelty of their business and their potential for financial or social return on investment.
“We had to consider what each business was, and what it will become,” Noriega said.