U of A Entrepreneurship Team Wins Georgia Bowl Competition

Surface Mod team members (l-r)Tyler Spain, Nathan Watson, and Cortes Williams .
Photo credit: University of Arkansas

Surface Mod team members (l-r)Tyler Spain, Nathan Watson, and Cortes Williams .

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Surface Mod, a University of Arkansas entrepreneurship team with plans to turn a new tissue engineering technology into a startup business, took top honors at the Georgia Bowl student business plan competition.

The Surface Mod team was awarded first place on Feb. 4, after presenting to a panel of judges selected from Georgia’s financial and business communities.

Surface Mod’s business plan hinges on an innovation that improves tissue scaffolds — a foundational material used by tissue engineers to generate synthetic tissues, grow human organs for transplantation, and develop and test new drugs.

“Tissue engineering can play a role in reducing costs for cancer therapies in the U.S., and that’s just one example,” said Nathan Watson, a student in the Master of Business Administration program in the Sam M. Walton College of Business and CEO of Surface Mod. “Using cells from a patient’s biopsy, our technology can recreate the tumor many times over for study in the lab and maintain the function it displays in the body. This will enable researchers to identify effective cancer treatments more efficiently and cost effectively.”

The team’s business builds on the work of Vassilios Sikavitsas, a professor at the University of Oklahoma and an expert in the field of tissue engineering. Compared to existing tissue scaffolds, Surface Mod scaffolds allow tissue engineers to grow clusters of three-dimensional cells into specialized tissues with greater precision and reliability. The Surface Mod team has also developed a novel manufacturing process — providing their business with a competitive advantage in the diversifying tissue engineering market.

“The cross-section of skills on this team provides them with a rare degree of competence and credibility in developing this idea,” said Carol Reeves, associate vice provost for entrepreneurship at the University of Arkansas, who coached the Surface Mod team to their victory. “Together, they have brought engineering, business and technology development, marketing, and logistics together to create a realistic and incredibly promising plan.”

The Surface Mod team shares Reeves’ confidence in their business; the four members have pledged to invest $30,000 of their own money in the business if their success continues in other business plan competitions.

In addition to Watson, the team includes Tyler Spain, Kikko Haydar and Cortes Williams. Spain, Watson, and Haydar are M.B.A. students at the University of Arkansas. Williams, a University of Oklahoma doctoral student, is conducting his PhD research with professor Sikavitsas.

The Georgia Bowl is an annual competition among aspiring future entrepreneurs and business leaders attending M.B.A. programs at leading colleges and universities throughout the world. It is the oldest business plan competition in the United States. A second University of Arkansas team, Rejuvenics, also competed in the 2017 competition.

About the University of Arkansas: The University of Arkansas provides an internationally competitive education for undergraduate and graduate students in more than 200 academic programs. The university contributes new knowledge, economic development, basic and applied research, and creative activity while also providing service to academic and professional disciplines. The Carnegie Foundation classifies the University of Arkansas among only 2 percent of universities in America that have the highest level of research activity. U.S. News & World Report ranks the University of Arkansas among its top American public research universities. Founded in 1871, the University of Arkansas comprises 10 colleges and schools and maintains a low student-to-faculty ratio that promotes personal attention and close mentoring.

Contacts

Carol Reeves, associate vice provost for entrepreneurship
Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
479-575-6220, creeves@uark.edu

Sarah Goforth, director of strategic communications and digital innovation
Sam M. Walton College of Business Office of Entrepreneurship & Innovation
479-225-7185, goforth@uark.edu

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