Startup Focused on Brain Cancer Treatment Wins $2,000 at Seed Funding Pitch Competition

Veronica Garcia, left, and Hayot Tuychiev answer questions about their company, Gene MassID, following their pitch at the Seed Funding Pitch Competition on Oct. 11. The competition was organized by the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and held at the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansa Oral and Visual History.
Brandon Howard

Veronica Garcia, left, and Hayot Tuychiev answer questions about their company, Gene MassID, following their pitch at the Seed Funding Pitch Competition on Oct. 11. The competition was organized by the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation and held at the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansa Oral and Visual History.

A student team focused on improving treatment for brain cancer through DNA analysis secured $2,000 for legal fees and further research in the fall Seed Funding Pitch Competition organized by the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Gene MassID is developing a diagnostic tool that will utilize personalized medicine for treating glioblastoma multiforme, an aggressive cancer sometimes referred to as "the terminator" because of its 95 percent mortality rate, according to Veronica Garcia, one of the team's presenters and a Master of Business Administration student in the Sam M. Walton College of Business

Gene MassID aims to "get rid of guesswork in brain cancer treatment and give patients another chance at life," said Hayot Tuychiev, who pitched alongside Garcia and serves as an instructor in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media

"Just like any human is unique, each brain tumor is unique," Tuychiev added. "We can actually address that brain tumor in a much more efficient way and bring medicine that is going to work." 

Gene MassID was among 10 teams to receive funding in the Oct. 11 competition, which awarded more than $10,000. The competition was held in tandem with OEI's inaugural SEED Arkansas Summit and hosted at the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History in downtown Fayetteville. 

Tuychiev praised the question-and-answer session that followed each pitch and said the competition also serve as a networking opportunity.  

"(The competition) allowed us to engage with different people — an opportunity to connect and learn," Tuychiev said. "The feedback from judges and Q&A was very helpful. At the end of the day, 'how do we create value, not a spectacle' was the most important takeaway for our team." 

The variety and caliber of projects "speaks volumes about what OEI can do for students," according to Madison Sutton, who spearheaded the event and serves as OEI's manager of competitions. 

"We had teams apply from the McMillon Innovation Studio, New Venture Development and the most independent projects I've seen from students who are already involved in OEI programs," Sutton said. "Not only are they working on projects as a part of a class or team, but they're taking the leap and pursuing ideas of their own too." 

Students will be able to compete for seed funding again in the spring semester, although a date hasn't been set. To be eligible, students must currently be enrolled at the U of A, have an innovative idea and share how they would use the funds toward customer discovery or prototyping.  

Students can pitch as individuals or teams and can request up to $2,000. The funding will be allocated for prototyping resources, legal fees, design services and market research costs. Pitches are 90 seconds (no slides allowed) and multiple students can participate in a pitch. Prior customer discovery or market research on ideas is required prior to competition. 

Teams

  • $2,000: Gene MassID — Veronica Garcia, Master of Business Administration, Walton College; Megan Reed, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences; Julia Tobacyk, Postdoctoral Fellow, UAMS; Hayot Tuychiev, Instructor, School of Journalism 

    • Gene MassID is a diagnostic tool that will utilize personalized medicine for treating glioblastoma multiforme, sometimes referred to as "the terminator" because of its 95 percent mortality rate. The team plans to use its winnings for legal fees and further research to "help each patient who will need another chance at life." 

  • $1,500: CareShare — Alex Cummings, Junior, Sam M. Walton College of Business; Jayson Holt, Junior, Walton College 

    • In an effort to mitigate the expenses of healthcare, CareShare is a platform designed to share the cost of healthcare between small businesses and their employees. 

  • $1,500: Gazelle — Wadi Hamud, Senior, Walton College 

    • Customer relationship management software that improves the experience of buying and selling a car. Hamud plans to use his winnings for prototyping and user testing. 

  • $1,000: NUBÏ — Jessica Bain, Doctorate, College of Engineering; Montinique Davis, Master of Finance, Walton College; Roseline Igah, Master of Applied Business Analytics, Walton College; Asmita Singh, Doctorate, Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food & Life Sciences 

    • With the Bahamas importing nearly 90 percent of its food to sustain its population and the influx of tourists, sustainable farming could help alleviate high costs of fresh fruits and vegetables for residents. NUBÏ has investigated warm climate greenhouses, vertical farming and community gardens to solve the issue. The team plans to use its funding for continued customer discovery to determine the best solution. 

  • $1,000: SiloLink — Allie Burgess, Master of Biomedical Engineering, College of Engineering; Kindann Fawcett, Postdoctoral Fellow, UAMS; Tiffany Miles, Postdoctoral Fellow, UAMS; Destiny Posey, Master of Business Administration, Walton College

    • With 42 percent of Arkansans living in food deserts, SiloLink will gather behavioral data to develop health interventions for rural residents affected by food insecurity. This interdisciplinary team plans to use its funding to test the software it has created. 

  • $1,000: UNCL SAM — Michael Burton, Master of Business Administration, Walton College; Chris Roderick, Master of Business Administration, Walton College; Clayton Woodruff, Executive Master of Business Administration, Walton College 

    • UNCL SAM is a bike locking system that retrofits to any bike rack and allows users to secure and monitor their bike for a small fee. 

  • $1,000: Vitruvian Matrix — Mahsa Haseli, Doctorate, College of Engineering; M. Hossein Kashefizadeh, Doctorate, College of Engineering; Karmon Johnson, Master of Business Administration, Walton College 

    • Vitruvian Matrix LLC is developing a novel surface coating that helps produce therapeutic cells. The company, which has an exclusive option to license the patent-pending technology from the U of A, plans to use its winnings for further customer discovery and custom fit design services. 

  • $500: Live Continent — Harry Kabodha, Senior, College of Engineering; Hamza Taiwo, Senior, College of Engineering 

    • On a mission to expand virtual reality access to residents in Northwest Arkansas, Live Continent plans a virtual reality cafe that offers customers a pay-as-you-go VR experience.  

  • $500: Vacuum Aid Crate — Ethan Pingel, Senior, College of Engineering 

    • This customized crate supplies tools and instructions to clean and maintain your premium vacuum. The team plans to allocate its winnings for marketing efforts. 

  • $500: Wind Powered Refrigeration Unit — Reagan Herrmann, Junior, Walton College; Jayce Hollister, Junior, Honors College of Engineering; Gavin Pitts, Junior, College of Engineering; Grant Resler, sophomore, Honors College of Engineering

    • With J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Inc. "in their backyard," this team has proposed a product that channels wind energy to power the refrigeration side of transporting goods. They plan to use their winnings to develop their initial prototype.

Judges

  • Jeff Amerine, founder and managing director, Startup Junkie

  • Taryn Mead, teaching professor of product innovation, design and management; Walton College

  • Phil Shellhammer, senior director of business incubation at the Greenhouse, OEI

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, Startup Village, and Greenhouse at the Bentonville Collaborative, 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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