UA Student Teams Win $2,000 to Grow Their Business Innovations | #education | #technology | #training

Insomnovation/Cari Humphry

Solving insomnia. Improving dialysis. Building a robot to mow your lawn. 

U of A students tackled a myriad of community issues in a seed-funding pitch competition last week hosted by the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, with six teams taking home $2,000 toward customer discovery, prototyping, market research or design.  

The winning teams included a mix of undergraduate and graduate students who had conducted prior customer discovery or market research to advance their businesses and innovations. 

“Watching these students compete for funds to help support their own entrepreneurial ideas is not only entertaining but inspiring to know that this next generation is working on making a big impact in the world we live in,” said Justin Urso, director of the McMillon Innovation Studio, U of A’s physical innovation hub. 

Eleven teams were selected to make three-minute pitches on Oct. 20 to a panel of expert judges consisting of local business leaders, entrepreneurs and U of A alumni. A five-minute Q&A followed each pitch.  

The six winning teams included a mix of undergrad and graduate students who had conducted prior customer discovery or market research to advance their businesses and innovations.  

Mission: Mentor, an education technology non-profit, was the judges’ top-ranked team. The platform recently launched a website to a few thousand students. 

“We are excited by the award that OEI has generously offered, especially because our mission parallels the university’s pursuit to provide transformational opportunities and skills,” said Amanda Thomsen, Mission: Mentor’s head of product. 

Thomsen said the team plans to use the seed funding to expand its user testing capabilities and accelerate development, which will allow Mission: Mentor to make the transition to postsecondary education more accessible and affordable for students. 

“Our next step is to build and launch a full virtual college counselor experience, where students can track their upcoming application deadlines, follow a custom study plan for standardized tests, find relevant scholarships or extracurricular programs and more.” 

“It was an impressive lineup of students, both graduate and undergraduate teams that competed,” Urso said. 

“I can only hope that next semesters pitch event will be in person and hundreds of people can watch and also be inspired by the talent and hard work these students are putting in.” 

Funding for the competition was made possible by individual donors and the Ron and Casondra LeMay Endowment for Entrepreneurial Law. Established in 2014, the endowment supports teaching, research, programs and scholarships designed to prepare the next generation of lawyers appropriately skilled in business and entrepreneurial law, and to encourage the professional development of entrepreneurs through opportunities for legal training. 


  • AutoWillow Inc. — Quinn Childress, senior, computer engineering 
    • AutoWillow is designing an all-in-one lawn care robot that will halt labor turnover and lower fees for equipment damages. Working out of OEI’s Startup Village, AutoWillow plans to use their funding for legal research. 
  • Enzyme Protection — Madison McKim, Executive Master of Business Administration candidate; Caleb Carman, Executive Master of Business Administration candidate; Jacob Green, Master of Business Administration candidate; Julia Loshelder, Ph.D. candidate in civil engineering and Graduate Entrepreneurial Fellow 
    • Harnessing an enzyme sequestering platform, this technology will help poultry better absorb nutrients during feeding. This in turn will require less input from poultry producers and reduce the environmental impact as less nutrients are expelled in the form of phosphorus. A graduate New Venture Development team that includes two Tyson Foods employees, the group plans to use their funding for market research. 
  • Gamma Vet — Zach Waldrip, Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship candidateBraden Bateman, Master’s candidate, Agricultural Economics and Graduate Entrepreneurial Fellow; Brett Littlejohn, Executive Master of Business Administration candidate; Shana Owens, Graduate Certificate in Entrepreneurship candidate 
    • Gamma Vet is a graduate New Venture Development team working on a clinical test for Felis catus gamma herpesvirus, a novel feline herpesvirus affecting more than 32 percent of cats worldwide. They plan to use the funding to develop a prototype for a commercial diagnostic device. 
  • Insomnovation — Julia Davis, senior, management; Nikolas Limperis, senior, finance; Wesley Smith, senior, business administration; Masako Suzuki, senior, marketing
    • Insomnovation will provide a monthly subscription “sleep box” filled with natural supplements to enhance sleep, along with a blood test to detect vitamin deficiencies that may trigger insomnia. The McMillon Studio team plans to include an app with the service so users can track their sleep. Insomnovation will use their funding to begin prototyping and design services. 
  • Mission: Mentor — Amanda Thomsen, junior, economics; Jack Norris, junior, computer science; Stephen Pierson, junior, mechanical engineering 
    • A free, virtual college counselor for high school students, Mission: Mentor is an education technology non-profit that links students with college scholarships, boosts their extracurricular profiles and matches them with custom test plans to improve their ACT/SAT scores. Having recently launched a website to a few thousand students, Mission: Mentor plans to use its funding for prototyping and customer discovery. 
  • Retractable Peritoneal Dialysis Catheter — Mackenzie Kapales, senior, biomedical engineering; Jose Sanchez, senior, mechanical engineering; Christopher Schaefer, senior, pre-med; Tayte Stephens, senior, biomedical engineering; Larissa Whale, senior, biomedical engineering 
    • This design team from the U of A’s biomedical engineering department seeks to redesign the current peritoneal dialysis catheter so that it retracts its external tubing after treatment. Current peritoneal catheters extend from the body, and the team discovered that results in decreased mobility and self-esteem for the users while harboring an infection risk. The team plans to use its funding for prototyping. 


  • Jeff Amerine, founder and managing director, Startup Junkie 

  • Eric Jones, founder and CEO, LFLS Shoes 

  • Jason Kohrig, sales account director, Simbe Robotics  

  • Meredith Lowry, patent attorney, Wright, Lindsey & Jennings LLP 

  • April Seggebruch, co-founder and chief strategy officer, Movista 

  • Charu Thomas, founder and CEO, Ox 

  • Randy Wilburn, founder and host, I Am Northwest Arkansas 

About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation: The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio and Startup Village, OEI provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. A unit of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.  

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