U of A Startups Win Over $50,000 in Prize Money at Arkansas Governor's Cup

ProPika was formed in the Sam M. Walton College's Master of Science in Product Innovation program, which develops the skills to create, launch and manage products in the context of a startup venture or innovative industry environment.
Jacob Slaton/Whatever Media

ProPika was formed in the Sam M. Walton College's Master of Science in Product Innovation program, which develops the skills to create, launch and manage products in the context of a startup venture or innovative industry environment.

LITTLE ROCK — A U of A startup focused on creating alternative fuels captured first place in their division at the 2024 Arkansas Governor's Cup, earning $20,000 to put toward their venture. 

ProPika won the high growth/technology graduate track at the annual event, held April 15-17 in Little Rock. They were among five U of A teams to win prize money, which totaled $54,500.

ProPika uses its patented technology to process cellulose so fuel producers can transform billions of tons of agricultural waste into sustainable alternative fuels and chemicals. The team includes ​Nhiem Cao, Vanessa Noemi Gonzalez and Angel Treat.

Treat credited Cao's expertise in scaling and commercialization as the standout moment from the team's presentation. 

"We were also able to clearly articulate not only the technical aspects of our innovation, but its potential impact on the biofuel industry," Treat said. 

The team emerged from the Sam M. Walton College's Master of Science in Product Innovation program, which develops the skills to create, launch and manage products in the context of a startup venture or innovative industry environment. 

ProPika plans to use some of the prize money to further develop its prototypes. Another portion will be allocated to support Treat's ongoing research. 

The team is also pursuing Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants from agencies like the U.S. Department of Energy and will participate in the National Science Foundation I-CORPS program this summer

Since 2001, the Governor's Cup has impacted more than 3,000 Arkansas college and university students. This year the competition opened the high-growth/technology graduate track to teams outside Arkansas, including Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas. 

Finalists for the Governor's Cup were announced in March by the Arkansas Capital Corporation, which oversees the event. The 2024 finalists comprised 20 teams from 11 universities in Arkansas, Mississippi and Oklahoma.  

The Winning Teams

ProPika  

  • First place, High-Growth/Technology Division-Graduate Track: $20,000​ 

  • ​Mission:  

    • ProPika uses its patented technology to process cellulose so fuel producers can transform billions of tons of agricultural waste into sustainable alternative fuels and chemicals.  

  • Members: 

    • ​Nhiem Cao, Master of Science in product innovation; Vanessa Noemi Gonzalez, Master of Business Administration; Angel Treat, Master of Business Administration 

DevelopIQ  

  • Second place, High-Growth/Technology Division-Undergraduate Track: $10,000​ 

  • ​Mission:  

    • DevelopIQ helps developers streamline the process of site selection by utilizing a machine-learning algorithm to help find the best land for their projects.   

  • Members: 

    • David Blinn, junior, pre-business; Alivia Brewer, senior, finance and accounting; Trey Thomas Dicks, sophomore, finance; Maricela Reyes Hernandez, sophomore, pre-business; Andres Balderrama Montano, senior, finance and computer science; Ignacio Balderrama Montano, sophomore, finance; Sebas Reyes, sophomore, finance; RyLeigh Werner, senior, supply chain and economics; Daniel (Ganer) Whitmire, junior, mathematics; Ananya Vangoor, senior, engineering 

Wanderist Wines 

  • Second place, Small Business Track: $7,500​ 

  • ​Mission:  

    • Wanderist is accelerating the wine industry toward a sustainable future by facilitating a seamless transition to wine-on-tap service for local establishments while keeping bottles out of landfills.  

  • Members: 

    • Colton Greenwood, Master of Business Administration; Alex Shell, Master of Science in finance; Bryan Shoffit, Master of Business Administration 

DataDroid 

  • Third place, High-Growth/Technology Division-Undergraduate Track: $7,500​ 

  • ​Mission:  

    • DataDroid is creating a collaborative computer tool for workers in manufacturing and logistics so they can be empowered by technology instead of being replaced by it.  

  • Members: 

    • Joe Boehler, sophomore, philosophy; Nathaniel House, senior, mechanical engineering; Larry Marshall, senior, mechanical engineering; Stephen Pierson, mechanical engineering; Ernesto Sierra, senior, computer engineering; Dylan Young, sophomore, international business​ 

Hidalga 

  • Third place, High-Growth/Technology Division-Graduate Track: $7,500 

  • ​Mission:  

    • Using its eponymous software, Hidalga is optimizing administrative workflows in healthcare by streamlining insurance prior authorizations via algorithmic intuition to save clinics time and money. 

  • Members: 

    • Devin Dougherty, Master of Science in product innovation; Lauren Russell Fitzgerald, post-doctoral fellow; Bhavya Patel, Master of Business Administration; Joshua Upshaw, doctorate, psychology.

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