Teams present their ideas at the Union Innovation Challenge

During the 2016-2017 school year, Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (Apex CIE) helped launch an outstanding number of student-founded companies; 84 to be exact. According to its website, Apex CIE’s mission is to “inspire and empower students to turn their passion, purpose, and ideas into action.” Over the course of this year, companies like Park & Diamond, SmartGoggleIQ, Bar None Insulated Apparel, and Tech Wound Solutions have made a name for themselves, thanks to the support they received from Apex CIE.

Park & Diamond got its start almost two years ago. Founders Jordan Klein and David Hall created a collapsible bike helmet that fits  into a water bottle and offers more protection than a typical helmet. They heard about their first pitch competition from Apex CIE.

“[Pitch competitions] are kind of stepping stones,” said Hall, “…the first pitch competition was worth $1,500–which for us at the time was a huge win. The encouragement we got from that, that was kind of the first step going from little idea phase to ‘we’re onto something.’”

Once they found key resources, like the mentorship they received from Apex CIE, Park & Diamond began to thrive. Apex CIE was a major asset  in their preparation for pitch competitions.

“The most valuable thing [the people at Apex CIE] did was they put us through the ringer,” said Klein, “In the sense that all the programming that they have–classes, entrepreneurship club, and the personal time they gave us–allowed us to figure out where we were lacking before somebody else asked the question.”

This year, Park & Diamond has gone on to win the Union Innovation Challenge, a pitch competition coordinated by Apex CIE, as well as Red Bull’s Launchpad Competition.

Runner-up for the Union Innovation Challenge was SmartGoggleIQ, a company that has received similar mentorship from Apex CIE. SmartGoogleIQ has developed wearable technology that allows swimmers to receive fast feedback from their coaches. The mentorship received during the creation of SmartGoogleIQ’s 20/20 Pace System has proven successful for founders Alex Shirshov, a senior economics major, Allie Howe, a senior computer science major, and Hunter Orrell, a senior mechanical engineering major.

“Right now there’s actually the second version of those prototypes being built out and we were able to partner with a plastics manufacturer to build some of those prototypes as a test,” said Shirshov on the process so far, “So overall it’s coming together.”

Bar None Insulated Apparel received Fan Favorite in this year’s Union Innovation Challenge. After sitting on a broken down ski-lift in brand new gloves that left his hands freezing, Chad Nexon, founder and junior marketing major, knew he wanted to create a better product. Nexon, along with John Hearney, a junior industrial and systems engineering major, have designed insulated ski gloves which are  three-times warmer than the leading brand.

“The center has really helped me,” said Nexon. “All of the staff have been super supportive in lending an ear and giving me great feedback so far. I went six times last semester. At one point,  there were three faculty members helping me just on a presentation. I wasn’t even in Innovate–it’s open to anybody.”

For medical device start-up team, Tech Wound Solutions, Apex CIE actually reached out to the student company first. Recent graduates Tucker King, Juliana Downey, Elisabeth Rebholz, and Kimberly Wyluda have created Kare Powder that self-destructs bacteria in infected wounds.

“David Caravati (member of the Apex team) reached out to our team to be our mentor at the ACC InVenture competition,” said Rebholz. “He traveled with our team to Atlanta, Georgia and supported us throughout the competition, to ultimately win second place and $10,000.”

Park and Diamond Co-Found David Hall pitches his product to a panel of esteemed judges at the 2017 Union Innovation. Park and Diamond went on to win the $7,500 grand prize.
Judges inspect a prototype of a collapsible bicycle helmet that fits into a water bottle.
Amanda Tinkleman

Article written by Amanda Tinkleman, Pamplin Reinventing Social Media (PRISM) member

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