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Engineering classmates win first-place prize in 2017 business plan competition

The SpecuLIFT Team claimed the $10,000 prize last month in the seventh annual UT College of Business and Innovation’s Business Innovation Competition.

The award will help the team develop its idea into a successful business.

Winning the College of Business and Innovation’s Business Innovation Competition and $10,000 were members of the SpecuLIFT Team, from left, Michael Peachock, Rachel Wagner, Andrew Oehrtman, Mark Caris, Melissa Brodsky, and Dr. Ronald Fournier, professor of bioengineering and team adviser. The team posed for a photo with Dr. Sonny Ariss, professor and chair of the Department of Management.

The winning team — Michael Peachock, Rachel Wagner, Andrew Oehrtman, Mark Caris and Melissa Brodsky — all met in the College of Engineering, are all bioengineering majors, and have remained close friends through their shared five-year educational journey. Their competition idea submission, developed for their engineering senior design project, was for a Novel Vaginal Speculum, a medical diagnostic device for which they are pursuing a patent.

“We started with about 50 different ideas for our senior design engineering project,” Wagner said. “Melissa and I worked on research. My sister works in the health-care field, and current specula are uncomfortable. Our team member, Michael, is a business minor and gave us a lot of insight into developing our business plan.”

“Since our major is bioengineering, we saw that it has good market potential,” Caris said, “so it was one of our top three ideas. The device is used by gynecologists for a pelvic exam, and a likely scenario for our device would be in an emergency room setting. Our goal was to maximize patient comfort with functionality.”

Caris added, “We all met in engineering and have known each other for five years. They are all great people, and we are great friends.”

Brodsky said, “The $10,000 prize will enable us to do more prototyping, such as a version that has a light source. Entering the business plan competition was a very eye-opening experience.”

“We are willing to support you, to provide free advice about how to spend, where to spend and when not to spend,” advised Dr. Sonny Ariss, professor and chair of the Department of Management in the College of Business and Innovation. “Statistically, you have a 5 percent chance of success, and I’m telling you this so you will be diligent not to fail. Your prize money is a major leap. Don’t underestimate yourself. Surround yourself with a great advisory board.”

“We are pursuing a patent for the device and, ultimately, will need to obtain FDA approval,” Caris said. “I am super-excited about this and fully expect to work lots of hours. We are ready to proceed.”

Finishing in second place was Green Agrothermal LLC, submitted by Mohammadmatin Hanifzadeh and Dr. Dong Shik Kim, associate professor of chemical and environmental engineering, who received the $5,000 prize to develop their business.

Honorable mention went to RowBot, submitted by Jeffrey Darah and Andrew Puppos.

The College of Business and Innovation’s business plan competition received 31 entries this year and was open to all UT faculty, staff and students.