By ANDREW MOORE
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
Lapara Medical beat five teams to win first place at the University of Texas at San Antonio biannual $100,000 Student Technology Venture Competition.
The Lapara Medical team includes business majors Warren Norket, Shelbi Chrislip and Duncan Hughes, and engineering majors Richard Canty, Adam Daufen, Luis Davila and Justin Ernest.
“We thought we had a really good chance of winning, but there was some healthy competition,” Daufen said.
Lapara Medical created a prototype for a laparoscopic cooling system for kidney surgeries. The system is more effective and less invasive than the current method, which involves making a large incision in the patient and placing ice packs next to the organ. The student’s laparoscopic device requires much smaller half-inch incisions, cools the organ more easily, and keeps the organ at a more consistent temperature — allowing surgeons a larger window of time to operate without risking damage to the organ. It also results in less scarring, less pain, and a shorter hospital stay.
Following the competition and finals, the students have little time to rest — their startup needs to incorporate, move into new offices, restructure and hire a seasoned CEO like their mentor, Mr. Rubén Zamorano, currently CEO of Bexar Medical Inc. He has mentored five teams in CITE competitions. Lapara Medical might also change its name to avoid sounding limited to laparoscopic devices.
As the winners, the team will receive $100,000 in cash and services from the competition’s sponsors. They will receive legal help from the Cox Smith law firm and office space for a year from the San Antonio Technology Center.
The Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship – or CITE – hosted the competition to give students hands-on experience as early stage entrepreneurs.
“It pairs up seniors of engineering and seniors of business to turn their innovations and business plans into real start-up potential,” CITE Director Cory Hallam said.
In addition to Lapara Medical, Jack Rabbit and Western Immersion Engineering finished second and third. The other teams included Gear Flux, Minesweep and Wind Hawk.
The Jack Rabbit is a remote controlled vehicle jack designed by engineering student David Hughes. It can be driven under a disabled vehicle and, while working in tandem with another Jack Rabbit, can lift the disabled car and actually move it across a vehicle shop floor. Justin Ernst, Luke Walker and Brooke Forest and Hughes founded the startup. They plan to move forward with their product after conducting additional market research and making design improvements. Jack Rabbit has just recently brought on marketing major Alan Schaffler and finance major Tim Nieland. The team was excited to get second place.
“Once we placed, we just were like ‘whoa we just placed!’ — we can actually start this company, we can actually go somewhere with it,” Walker said.
So far, the team has spent $1,200 and they need around $1,500 more to create a fully functioning prototype. Hughes said that if they could raise around $25,000, they could work with a manufacturing company and get the product to market much faster.
Western Immersion Engineering’s RowdySim 240 is a motion gaming chair that moves and pitches when used with racing games or flight simulators. Team lead Breanna Oliver is confident that the product will sell. She has some interested investors and has already sold the prototype that her team presented.
CITE Director Hallam said that while a few of the many startups created in the CITE competition are in the process of becoming successful companies, the students will more often license their inventions to an established company.
“We are equipping our undergraduates with the ability to analyze and prototype any new product,” Hallam said.
In the program, the students learned to work together, negotiate and take a product to market by researching price and competition. Just like a real business, the teams can fire members who are not cooperating or pulling their weight. At mid-semester, industry professionals visit and drill students with questions.
“I think I learned more in the (CITE) program than all my classes combined,” Walker said. “You actually take what they tell you and put it to use. You go through problems and have to figure them out yourself; no one’s going to help you, really. It’s hands on learning is what it is.”
For first place winner Lapara Medical, the future is exciting but still very uncertain. At present, the team needs to raise $330,000 in their first round of funding to start the animal clinical trials for their product. And eventually, they can go to the Food and Drug Administration seeking approval for human trials – a step that will cost them a total of $3.4 million. The team plans to pitch in the first $49,000. It’s a big step for the students, but for now they are just grateful for the opportunity.
“Thanks to UTSA’s CITE competition we get to just go in and just have our own business,” Daufen said.