Student Entrepreneurs Win Big at Seed Funding Competition

Coleman Warren has established Simple and Sweet, a locally sourced, homemade ice cream company that donates a portion of its revenue to the NWA Food Bank to fight food insecurity. The company has surpassed $7,000 in revenue in three months — with no debt and little overhead — and donated roughly 10,000 meals.
Courtesy of Coleman Warren

Coleman Warren has established Simple and Sweet, a locally sourced, homemade ice cream company that donates a portion of its revenue to the NWA Food Bank to fight food insecurity. The company has surpassed $7,000 in revenue in three months — with no debt and little overhead — and donated roughly 10,000 meals.

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Seven University of Arkansas student teams won up to $2,000 each in a seed funding competition hosted by the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, in partnership with the School of Law.

Thirteen teams were selected to pitch on Jan. 21 to a panel of expert judges consisting of local investors, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. The 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. The funding will cover diverse needs for each team, including prototype development, customer discovery, design services, and legal fees.

"We are deeply grateful to our alumni Ron LeMay and his wife Casondra LeMay for providing financial support for this enriching experience for our students," said law school Dean Margaret Sova McCabe.

"This competition was a wonderful way of combining the practice of law with the grit of young entrepreneurship. These kinds of collaborations set our students on the path to success where they make remarkable contributions to the communities they serve."

The Ron and Casondra LeMay Endowment for Entrepreneurial Law was established to support 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.

Will Foster, associate dean for academic affairs in the law school, said the competition will also give the college an opportunity to address some of the teams' legal needs.

"We were delighted to partner with the OEI on this competition," Foster said. "Participating in the competition allowed us to see the exciting and impressive ideas generated by students in the program. ... It's a fun and valuable collaboration on many levels."

"The student seed fund was made possible through donations from entrepreneurs and business leaders across the community in addition to the generous support offered through the Ron and Casondra LeMay Endowment for Entrepreneurial Law. These awards, alongside the mentoring and training offered by OEI and the School of Law, will help the teams advance their ideas and ventures with a safety net of support from across the university and in the community," said Sarah Goforth, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

TEAMS

  • Airkart — Zain Blackwell, senior, honors College of Engineering; Mitchell Belz, senior, pre-med; Morgan Burns, senior, biomedical engineering; Gabriel David, honors College of Engineering; Smit Patel, senior, honors College of Engineering; Casey Thurmon, senior, biomedical engineering.
    • The Airkart is a mobile, medical storage cart that provides caregivers easy access to life-saving devices. The cart seeks to address issues of safety that hinder care for both the patient and caregiver. The team plans to use the funding to assemble a prototype with the possibility of including a lift system to assistant with vehicular transport.
  • Bullyproof — Liz Alspach, Master of Fine Arts; Amanda Earhart, Master of Business Administration; Joe Macaluso, Master of Business Administration
    • Backed by a team of experts with industry experience, Bullyproof seeks to halt workplace toxicity with in-depth training through more precise HR language from a proprietary terminology database. The team is aiming for a paradigm shift in corporate culture, and the funding will help the product move from the wireframe stage to the testing phase. The team includes M.F.A. and M.B.A. students pursuing New Venture Development.
  • Gas pump project — Julia Davis, senior, Walton College of Business; Emma Choate, junior, mathematics; Caleb Hill, honors Fulbright College; Mary Pham, junior, honors Walton College of Business; Isha Rajaram, junior, industrial engineering; Sailesh Sirigineedi, honors College of Engineering; Halle Schneidewind, senior, industrial engineering
    • Veterans of Enactus and the Social Innovation Challenge, the team behind the Gasoline Runoff Project has created a nozzle attachment to prevent gas spills at the pump. Their research revealed that small spills can be just as devastating to the environment and the people running the gas station. They are testing a prototype that is cheap to produce and doesn't hinder fueling speed compared to current technology.
  • Nivera Icephobic — Giselle Toledo, graduate student, chemistry and biochemistry
    • Nivera has created a durable, multifaceted product that keeps ice from coating a surface. The product is applicable from protecting energy infrastructure to fighting food waste. The team, which includes materials science and M.B.A. students currently in New Venture Development, plans to use their funding to test the product on preventing ice accumulation on cell towers.
  • Simple + Sweet ice cream — Coleman Warren, senior, honors College of Engineering
    • Coleman Warren has established a locally sourced, homemade ice cream company that donates a portion of its revenue to the NWA Food Bank to fight food insecurity. The company has surpassed $7,000 in revenue in three months — with no debt and little overhead — and donated roughly 10,000 meals.
  • Sustainable concrete — Maddie Heal, senior, Sam M. Walton College of Business
    • Maddie Heal's product addresses the world's growing need for infrastructure with a green form of concrete. The new material would be made using fly ash and recycled plastics to create sustainable concrete mixtures. This approach will also ensure that non-biodegradable waste doesn't get dumped in landfills.
  • Synflo — Grayson Morrow, graduate student, finance; Astha Malhotra, Master of Business of Administration; Emily Wiencek, Master of Business Administration
    • With a patent pending, Synflo could be the future of vascular grafts, as it reduces surgery risks and costs while also supporting immune defense. The team is currently pursuing New Venture Development, and they plan to use their winnings to pay for consulting that will help their device clear regulatory hurdles.

JUDGES

  • Jeff Amerine, founder and managing director, Startup Junkie Consulting
  • Ellen Brune, director of emerging technology and product, Walmart
  • Rogelio Garcia Contreras, director of social innovation initiative, U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • Meredith Lowry, patent attorney, Wright, Lindsey & Jennings LLP
  • Bjorn Simmons, co-founder and managing partner, Venture Noire
  • Maf Sonko, co-founder and CEO, AidBanc

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. OEI also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new. 

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 fewer than 3 percent of colleges and 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. 

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