By LAURA LOREK
Reporter with Silicon Hills News
The event held at the Lady Bird Johnson auditorium at the University of Texas at Austin Thursday drew several hundred spectators including students, mentors, investors and entrepreneurs. The evening kicked off with five-minute presentations from the startups followed by Bob Metcalfe, professor of innovation at UT, interviewing Brian Sharples, co-founder and CEO of HomeAway, the world’s largest vacation rental home company.
“Our companies get better every year, but why are they getting better every year? They are different people every year, but they are getting better and better and it’s fun to watch,” said Metcalfe, one of the program’s instructors.
This semester’s trends included medical devices, mobile applications and several companies with products geared to meet the needs of students. Some already had revenue and customers.
“The entrepreneurs coming into our class and coming into Capital Factory are just so much more mature. They are just so much further along. They don’t make stupid mistakes,” said Joshua Baer, Longhorn Startup instructor and executive director of Capital Factory. “They know more coming into it.”
Ben Dyer, serial entrepreneur and Longhorn Startup instructor, agreed.
“They just continue to get more polished and have more interesting plans,” Dyer said. Some of the startups have been in the class the previous semester like Everywhere Energy, which makes a cell phone battery charger, and Noki, formerly known as Air Type, creator of a virtual keyboard, and they have that advantage, he said.
“Everybody who presented was incredibly polished,” Sharples said…”The ideas were fantastic.”
Sharples wanted to know more about several of the startups and he was interested in investing in a few. He said experience helps the startups execute the ideas more effectively and he encouraged them to think big and partner with people who do have more experience.
The biomedical device startups included Lyte Labs and Gray Matter Technologies.
With all the news about the dangers of concussions for athletes, the team of engineers behind Gray Matter Technologies came up with a solution. They developed G-Force, a smart mouth guard to diagnose and track a concussion.
The team developed a microchip to fit into a mouth guard. It is currently working to solve the battery problem, said Tanner Avery, a senior studying mechanical engineering and the company’s CEO. The device would sell for $99 and allow users to collect data on any kind of head impact in any sport, he said. The device will be targeted to young athletes and their parents. It can track and store data in the cloud over an athletes’ lifetime to monitor injuries.
Mark Johnson, also a senior studying mechanical engineering, pitched Gray Matter’s technology on stage. The other founders include Frank Cerasoli, a senior majoring in computer science and physics and Steve Franklin, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering.
“Inside a G-Force mouth guard, you’ll find the same technology inside an Apple I-Watch,” Johnson said. The founders have bootstrapped the company for the past six months and invested their own money to create a prototype. Now it’s looking for its first round of seed funding to beta test the mouth guard, Johnson said. They also have a patent pending on the device.
“Head injuries are always going to be a part of sports and if we can’t prevent them we should do everything we can for the players who suffer them,” Johnson said. “Part of that is taking an injured player and removing them from the game so they don’t continue to get hurt.”Lyte Labs makes a smart ring that monitors glucose levels in people with diabetes via a smart phone. The company eventually seeks to replace glucose test strips with its non-invasive technology.
Lyte Labs’ hardware uses near-infrared spectroscopy for detecting glucose levels in the blood, said Viabhav Gupta, a senior majoring in electrical engineering and computer science. Its software will collect data from the device on glucose levels, he said. The team is made up of six other students. They are hoping to have the device on the market by 2017.
Other engineering projects included Noki, previously known as Air Type, which has created an invisible keyboard for an iPad or other tablet. Its technology involves wearable hand devices that reads finger movements and hand gestures and allows users to type on any surface.
Everywhere Energy created a shoe sole insert called Eversole that generates energy that can charge a mobile phone. Its tag line is “be your own battery.”
Other startups tackled problems students and student organizations face on campus.
Hapback developed an event sponsorship marketplace to connect small to medium events with sponsors, said William Labanowski, a business honors and computer science double major and a senior. The site is focused on Austin for now with plans to expand nationwide.
Hapback has already found sponsorships, ranging from $1,000 to $7,500, for different events at the UT campus, Labanowski said.
In an interview following the presentations, he said the class helped Hapback immensely by connecting them seasoned mentors.
Damon Clinkscales volunteered to mentor Hapback and met with them once a week. He worked with them on the technology behind the website built with Ruby on Rails.
“I think it has great potential,” Clinkscales said. “On both sides of the equation, you have two parties that need help.”
Choreo created a mobile app and website for dancers to manage their dance life. It seeks to foster a nationwide community where dancers can collaborate and share information.
“Existing technology does not work for dancers,” said Bri Connelly, a senior in computer science and a competitive dancer.
Choreo’s online centralized community allows dancers to search for videos and tutorials on various dance routines and genres and to plan and promote events in one place.
The other startups included:
Tastebud – a mobile app that partners with 30 Austin eateries to provide discounts to diners on meals served during off peak hours.
GamePlan– Jeremy Hintz pitched a mobile phone event planning app that let students and alumni at the University of Texas schedule events surrounding UT football games.
Texas Custom Apparel – T-shirts for students designed by students.
OnePay – an online bill payment and money management site targeted at university students.
Study Huddle – a collaborative peer-to-peer app that helps college students improve grades by connecting with one another on homework, projects and other assignments outside of class.
Greek Link – an app that connects students who belong to fraternities and sororities on college campuses nationwide.