Each fall, student entrepreneurs at UMBC pitch their big ideas – Shark Tank-style, no less – for potential funding. And each year, their ideas span disciplines, including everything from a comic book series featuring a new brand of hero, to hydro-powered water bottles designed to track water consumption.
Now in its eighth year, the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship Idea Competition is just one of several ways UMBC is helping to turn students’ ideas into reality, providing monetary prizes for startup funds, and advice from alums and others who can help them along the route to success.
“I think this competition is an amazing opportunity to help young adults have the confidence and ambition to go beyond just spitballing ideas,” said Karla Negrete ’19, mechanical engineering. Negrete and her partner Nathan Eschbach ’19, mechanical engineering, took home first place and a $750 prize for their Puncture Perfect concept, a patch that lights up veins to aid medical professionals in drawing blood.
“I think with the emergence of ultrasonic and infrared technology our idea was really overlooked. We intend for the venipuncture assistance patch to be a tool utilized in hospitals as large as Johns Hopkins to overseas military bases to third world developing countries. For a procedure as simple as the venipuncture, there should be a simple solution that is universally available,” explained Negrete.
Three UMBC alumni returned to campus to pose questions to the young entrepreneurs and act as judges for the competition – Alexander Chizhik ’97, economics; Paul Mangus ’86, information systems management; and Angela Singleton ’95, interdisciplinary studies. When addressing the audience, all three focused on the importance of idea generation and perseverance. Singleton, inventor of footwear technology for women’s high heels, stressed the value of networking and relationship building, “so when you have your big idea, you know who to come to to make it happen.”
“Most people will tell you they have an idea but they don’t take steps to put it in action. If you don’t take that first step, there is no success,” said Chizhik, COO and general counsel for VIMRO, LLC. “It’s an incredible adventure to be part of something.”
Mustafa Al-Adhami M.S. ’15 and current Ph.D. student, mechanical engineering, and his partner Ben Pushon-Smith M.S. ’17, electrical engineering, were awarded second place for their Neuro-Stablyzer concept. Utilizing virtual reality technology, the Neuro-Stablyzer would combat the symptoms of PTSD through game play by directly targeting the areas of the brain most affected. Their goal is to offer an alternative solution to those suffering from PTSD that wouldn’t be as traumatic as traditional treatment or require medication.
Pushon-Smith elaborated, saying, “We believe that our idea could revolutionize how we treat mood disorders, and could be tailored to treat a broad range of mood disorders such as anxiety, ADHD, depression, and even enhanced learning. We plan to better research the localized effect of VR on specific networks of the brain, and to work with commercial partners to develop prototype games for the Neuro-Stablyzer program.”
Third place winner Vincent Celebrado-Royer ’18, business technology administration, brought his idea to the table with the Skanaroo app he developed. Skanaroo buttons are designed to be affixed to an easily visible accessory like a backpack. Each button is customized with a QR code that leads to a student organization’s landing page, with the idea that passersby will scan to learn more. Celebrado-Royer has already developed a fully functional product and website and has found success in marketing his invention to various clubs on the UMBC campus. In addition to his third place award, Celebrado-Royer also won best presentation.
In addition to this fall event, the Center for Entrepreneurship’s annual Cangialosi Business Innovation Competition (CBIC) is another opportunity for students to showcase their entrepreneurial prowess. This spring event awards $3,000 to the first place winner who devises the most effective startup business plan. Both of these events serve as a foundational stepping stone for students interested in making a career as an entrepreneur. Al-Adhami won third place in last year’s CBIC competition and has received confirmation for a provisional patent. He reflected on his experiences saying, “It was great to share our idea with a panel of entrepreneurs; hopefully one day we will be on the other side of the discussion.”
Banner image: Participants in the 2017 Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship Idea Competition. All photos by Marlayna Demond ‘11 for UMBC.