The prize money is only the beginning…
Something that gives me an immense amount of enjoyment is the advising that I do with student startups from the UCONN Innovation Quest program. This program is a contest with real cash awards as well as a six week incubator program that puts the student teams directly in touch with startup experts as well as investors. Just having a cool or innovative idea isn’t enough to compete. The purpose of the iQ program is to create real businesses that have the potential to generate revenue, jobs and growth.
The UCONN program is run by Dr. Richard Dino, a professor from the School of Business with an endless amount of enthusiasm and encouragement. Keith Fox, an alumnus of UCONN, provides iQ support from the national program level. In addition to Rich and Keith, there are twenty or more individuals both inside and outside the University who provide mentoring and other program support.
There are many success stories that have emerged out of the program, but here is a handful of the companies with whom I have regularly stayed in touch. Congratulations to all of these business founders who are now working on their companies full-time!
Macroscopic Solutions, founded by Connecticut-based Mark Smith, provides high-resolution imaging products for scientific researchers. Although their primary focus is to enhance scientific discovery, their product is also very popular among manufacturers, fabricators, machinists and mechanical engineers for quality, control and failure testing. Along with Mark, the team includes Daniel Saftner, Annette Evans and Jake Bellaire.
The Macropod is an automated photomacrography system that can rapidly capture and assemble multiple images. The images are post-processed so that only the areas in focus will appear in the final image. The result is an ultra-high-resolution, color image that is completely in focus and rivals that of a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM).
The technology used in the Macropod was invented while Mark Smith was still in high school. Through his program of donating one Macropod to a school for every 10 that they sell, Mark is giving back by encouraging kids to pursue careers in STEM-related fields.
I suppose it is no surprise that I share a bond with other fellow entrepreneurs like Mark that emerged from the UCONN Department of Geology and Geophysics (now known as the Center of Integrative Geosciences).
After a successful launch to six universities to help college students find a safe ride home after a night of partying, Dashride made a brilliant pivot of their business concept: Their technology is now a software platform that allows independent taxi and limo companies to compete with the big on-demand taxi and ride-share services.
Founded by Nadav Ulman and Tom Bachant, Dashride is following a startup pattern that involves building a solid product while courting the angel and VC investor community. They have successfully completed a round of angel funding (I am among those initial investors) and are close to closing a seed round that will net them close to $1MM in working capital.
Dashride’s platform allows independent taxi and limo companies to take advantage of the ever-expanding rideshare industry. They accomplish this by providing a SaaS-based platform with minimal up-front investment. They currently have 5 employees and are based in New York City.
Dashride was recently featured in the New York Times business section in an article highlighting tech companies who are enabling small businesses to compete in larger markets. You can read that New York Times article here.
Another company that successfully emerged from the first iQ program at UCONN was Smpl Bio, founded by James Lindsay and Ed Hemphill. Their company simplifies the process of biomarker selection for scientific researchers through the design and use of their proprietary algorithms.
Biomarkers are used in the bio-medical world to infer the existence of a particular disease, infection or condition. The Smpl Bio team is developing a software platform to allow researchers world-wide to more quickly identify biomarkers for the diseases or conditions that are being studied. The ability to quickly identify the existence of a condition or disease has obvious benefits in terms of speed to treatment.
The team has successfully raised funds through the Connecticut Innovations Challenge Grant program as well as the University of Connecticut Third Bridge Grant. With those funds they have expanded the full-time team to include three new programmers who are doing web development and scientific programming.
James tells me that they are planning on bringing on a full-time technical sales person and veteran bio-science CEO by year end. They also have an impressive and experienced team of scientists and business advisors backing them up.
They are currently finishing up their scalable, cloud-based solution. They are targeting a Q1 2015 date for the general availability of their platform both in the US and internationally.
More Businesses On Their Way!
The 2014 iQ program recently wrapped up and I’m optimistic about the potential success of that next round of new, emerging businesses. I’m also looking forward to the next round of entrepreneurs and their ideas this coming fall!