Three pitch competitions were rolled into one awards ceremony that conferred more than $400,000 in prize money for the 2021 Big Idea Competition at The University of Texas at Dallas.
The Nov. 9 ceremony, hosted by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIE) in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology Building Lecture Hall, concluded a months-long search for the biggest ideas in North Texas’ entrepreneurship ecosystem. The event, presented jointly by UT Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center, also featured guest speakers Ross Perot Jr., chairman of The Perot Group, and Anurag Jain, chairman and CEO of Access Healthcare.
“This awards ceremony is a celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship at UTD,” said Dr. Hasan Pirkul, Caruth Chair and dean of the Naveen Jindal School of Management. “If you look at the quality of the student teams and all the ideas, it’s clear that entrepreneurship and innovation has become a cornerstone in UTD’s culture.”
Three Tracks for Comet Contestants
Contestants included UT Dallas students, alumni and researchers in three tracks: student, alumni and research commercialization. Winners of two other competitions were also honored at the event, which was emceed by Hannah Davis, co-host of “Good Morning Texas” on WFAA-TV. A total of $415,000 was awarded.
“This awards ceremony is a celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship at UTD. If you look at the quality of the student teams and all the ideas, it’s clear that entrepreneurship and innovation has become a cornerstone in UTD’s culture.”
Dr. Hasan Pirkul, Caruth Chair and dean of the Naveen Jindal School of Management
Shashank Vinay Kumar, a computer science junior in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, won $25,000 in the student track for Bonsai, a ticket-resolution and lead-generation tool that uses machine learning.
Matthew Coburn BS’13 and Austin Howard MS’09, PhD’14 won $25,000 in the alumni category for Tangible Intelligence, a business-as-a-service platform that uses machine learning to automate businesses’ rote and mundane work.
Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research at UT Dallas, introduced the research-commercialization track and described the importance of the relationship between innovation and research at the University.
“Many of the stories that are being generated as a function of the research-commercialization award are ones that we should be very proud of because it’s about moving innovations from the bench toward the marketplace,” he said.
Benedict Voit BS’08 and Dr. Walter Voit BS’05, MS’06 won $100,000 in the category for Qualia Oto, a biomedical device company that makes hearing-assistance devices.
More Competitions, More Money
Two UT Dallas students captured the top prize in the UTDesign Startup Challenge, a program offered in partnership with the Jonsson School. Md Rakeen Murtaza, a software engineering senior, and Mercedes Johnson, an MBA graduate student, each won $15,000 of engineering services along with $5,000 in cash. Murtaza won for LawnExec, an online tool that helps lawn care companies manage their businesses. Johnson was honored for Food Magnet, an app that helps customers find food trucks and food trucks find business.
Sidney Collin, CEO and co-founder of biomedical device startup De Oro Devices, won the $50,000 Capital Factory Biotech+ and Digital Health Investment Challenge.
Perot and Jain, co-founders of Perot Jain, a Dallas-based venture capital firm, concluded the event with a chat about entrepreneurship in Texas. Perot said the goal at Perot Jain is to build up promising young entrepreneurs rather than a specific startup company.
“We like to do early seed-round funding for great entrepreneurs or great ideas,” Perot said. “The theory is they’re going to keep us young with their new ideas and their energy, but the odds are a lot of these great entrepreneurs — first, second time — they’re going to fail. But I want to know this talent; I want to be close to them; and if the first two don’t work, we’re there for the third.”
Paul Nichols, executive director of the IIE, said that the competition’s growth this year — in prize money and partnerships as well as big ideas — confirmed that entrepreneurship at the University is influencing the region and beyond.
“The COVID-19 pandemic proved beyond any doubt the need to be ready and able to change products and business models when the old rules of success are no longer working,” said Nichols, who also directs the innovation and entrepreneurship programs in the Jindal School. “At UT Dallas, we are providing the resources and training for our students and partners to be the innovators and game changers North Texas and the world will need throughout this century.”
McKesson Corp., Biotech+ at Pegasus Park, Silicon Valley Bank, Blackstone LaunchPad, Texas Business Hall of Fame Foundation, TechStar Group, Palomino Capital Corp. and Capital Factory sponsored the competition.