Pitch competition draws engineering students, faculty

Pitch competition draws engineering students, faculty

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Alyssa Amen | NUtech Ventures
Fariba Aghabaglou, doctoral student in biomedical engineering, won first place among graduate students and faculty with a pitch for SmartFlex, a smart bandage system. The Engineering Pitch Competition included additional resources for participating teams, including business mentors and practice sessions leading up to the event.

Eight teams recently competed in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's inaugural Engineering Pitch Competition, sharing stories related to technical engineering problems and presenting market solutions.

Held Dec. 3, the competition provided two business pitch categories: one for undergraduate students and another for graduate students, postdoctoral researchers and faculty. Hosted by Nebraska’s College of Engineering, NUtech Ventures and the Center for Entrepreneurship, it also featured teams with at least one engineering representative.

“I think participants excelled and did a fantastic job,” said Michael Sealy, an event organizer and assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering. “It’s an event we want to continue to grow. One of our main goals is to get the engineering community more oriented toward entrepreneurial activity.”

Dominic Nguyen, undergraduate student in chemical engineering, took first place in the undergraduate category for Yumaroo, a web-based platform that helps customers decide where to eat.

Fariba Aghabaglou, doctoral student in biomedical engineering, won first place among graduate students and faculty with a pitch for SmartFlex: a smart bandage system with the potential for wireless drug delivery and monitoring.

“My favorite part of the pitch competition was the overall design — it really challenged our scientific knowledge, problem-solving strategies, presentation skills and understanding of startup methodology,” Aghabaglou said. “Not only was it a competition, but it provided us with a great learning opportunity.”

Dominic Nguyen took first place in the undergraduate category for Yumaroo. The web-based platform uses machine learning to provide restaurant meal recommendations, taking into account food restrictions and allergies.

Azadeh Mostafavi, a doctoral student in biomedical engineering, presents Pen Bone, a device with potential to fix bone defects.

Among other pitches: a 3D pen to help fix bone defects, a pool alarm to prevent drowning and a device to help car owners easily check oil. Prior to the December competition, all participating teams had access to business mentors and practice pitch sessions.

“We saw great improvement from teams who attended optional practice sessions,” said Mauricio Suarez, an event organizer and director of licensing at NUtech Ventures. “Overall, we encouraged teams to have a ‘problem first’ mindset when researching business ideas. Solutions looking for problems are hard to commercialize.”

Pitch competition judges, from left: Chuck Waterson, assistant professor of practice in business management; Vern Powers, Nebraska business owner and investor; and Ben Williamson, attorney and lead investor at Invest Nebraska.

The competition was judged by Chuck Waterson, assistant professor of practice in business management; Vern Powers, Nebraska business owner and investor; and Ben Williamson, attorney and lead investor at Invest Nebraska. Awards included $1,000 and makerspace memberships for Nebraska Innovation Studio.

“I thought the competition was great and well-run,” Williamson said. “I especially loved seeing eight engineering-based teams interested in entrepreneurship and building businesses.”

Carl Nelson, professor of mechanical and materials engineering, presents WaterWarrior Alert, a pool alarm product.