The University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship’s semester-long startup competition held its finale Friday in the Stamps Auditorium, drawing close to 200 people.
Throughout the semester, more than 60 business pitches were narrowed down to three finalist groups — Neurable, AOE Med and Woodside Distributors — competing for the $15,000 prize. Following the presentation of the startup companies, Engineering Prof. Tom Frank, the head of the Center for Entrepreneurship for the College of Engineering, announced to the audience that — by a margin of one vote — Woodside Distributors was the winner of the $15,000 grand prize.
The startup competition is a program open to all undergraduate and graduate students with a business venture idea who feel they would benefit from direct mentorship from local entrepreneurs. The competition was presented to students who were enrolled in Entrepreneurship 407.
Neurable, pioneered by Ramses Alcaide, a sixth-year neuroscience Ph.D. candidate at the Medical School, began the finale by presenting what they described as the first low-cost, non-invasive brain-computer interface designed to be compatible with all mainstream virtual reality software. The company plans for this brain-computer interface to be compatible with televisions, cars, wheelchairs and games.
Representatives from the company who were there to present the company platform and goals told the panel of judges Neurable had already received numerous awards and grants for their headset system and has begun collaboration with other virtual reality technology companies.
The panel of mentors advised the Neurable team to narrow their focus to medical applications, which are more in line with the stated mission of the company.
Evan Ufer, a partner at the Plymouth Venture and the mentor for Neurable, applauded the company’s vision and the team members’ willingness to learn and take advice.
“Neurable has been an awesome team to work with,” he said. “This is a technology where everybody that I talk to, whether it is a potential user, or a venture capital firm, or a potential partner, are so excited about this idea. That is something you don’t see very often, and I think that this company has a huge future.”
After Neurable’s presentation, Engineering senior Arianna Carley presented her company, AOE Med, for which she currently serves as CEO. She said her company aims to streamline the patient transfer process.
“Around 2 million people are injured every year moving and transferring patients between chair and bed.” Carley said. “This is costing the health care industry about $20 billion annually. So we at AOE Med tried to solve this problem by creating the geriatric patient transfer device, which will help move patients efficiently, seamlessly and safely.”
According to Carley, AOE Med already has a partnership with Westchester General Hospital in Miami, Fla., and once they finish developing the first four patient transfer chairs, they will be used there. She said the money from the competition would go to completing the process of obtaining Food and Drug Administration certification for AOE Med’s devices.
The final group to present was Woodside Distributors. According to their website, Woodside Distributors is “a national distributor of home improvement, sports & outdoors, automotive, and other frequently purchased products from industry leaders including 3M, Honeywell and Gorilla Glue.”
Business sophomore Danny Sheridan, the Woodside Distributors team representative, told the panelists that they had taken several steps forward as a business since the beginning of their mentorship with The Startup, such as hands-on training with business professionals in New York City to find better pricing as well. He also noted that the company has seen a margin growth of 80 percent since the company’s creation.
Sheridan told the judges they would like to increase Woodside Distributors’ revenue run rate from $2.5 million to $5 million worth of merchandise by the end of the year.
“When we talk about a $5 million-dollar run rate, I want to stress to all of you that we have taken the risk out of investment.” Sheridan said. “So, while the other groups here today have suggested very big ideas, at Woodside, we know that a $15,000 investment can turn into an increased hiring of University of Michigan students and increased profit.”
Amid largely positive feedback, one panelist, Adrian Ohmer of the Detroit Innovate fund and Invest Detroit’s First Step Fund questioned the group about company values and their company’s benefit to society.
In his response, Sheridan said Woodside’s is successful at reducing costs and expenses to consumers.
“What we do really well is reducing overhead costs,” he said. “And when you buy our products, you aren’t paying for office costs, or huge executive salaries. We are taking the overhead price out of online purchasing, and driving down the costs to customers.”
Sheridan, in a later interview, expressed his gratitude to the CFE and their mentor, Adrian Fortino of the Mercury Fund, for the resources to succeed. He said with Fortino’s mentorship, they hope to continue to grow the size of their business venture.
“With Adrian’s (business) acumen, we’re working on implementing technology into Woodside to increase the efficiency of the processes we spend time on every day,” he said. “This would dramatically impact our ability to scale up to double the size we currently are at.”