A revolutionary technology that eliminates background noise in hearing aids and an environmentally conscience company that delivers clean water to villages in India were judged the best of a talented field of entrepreneurs who competed in the 10th annual Wake Forest Elevator Competition.
A team composed of a doctoral candidate in electrical engineering from Georgia Tech and an MBA student in Japanese Studies at the University of Michigan were the best of six finalists competing in the Traditional competition.
Georgia Tech’s Brian Degnan and Michigan’s Aaron Nelson represented Audiallo, a semi-conductor company that designs biologically inspired, audio processing integrated circuits for hearing aids. The team, which has founded two software startups, has developed a technology that effectively eliminates background noise and radically improves the amplification process. Degnan and Nelson won $10,000 and a paid entry into the 2009 Global Moot Corp Competition.
Ravi Yekula of Clean India was the best of five finalists in the Social Entrepreneurship category. He’ll received $5,000 and, with Degnan and Nelson, share about $65,000 in legal and marketing services.
Students from the Wake Forest University Schools of Business manage and produce the event each year. Diana Morse, a second-year student at Babcock, co-chairs the competition.
“In the Traditional competition, the level of competition was so high this year. It was exemplified by the fact they had to let six teams into the final round.”
The competition, held Saturday, March 28, was the culmination of a two-day event that started Friday, March 27, with a lecture by Bob Young, the founder and CEO of Lulu.com and co-founder of Red Hat Technologies.
A total of 28 teams — including three from Wake Forest –representing schools from the United States and abroad got two minutes – the equivalent of a typical elevator ride — to pitch their ideas. Finalists then received 20 minutes to pitch their company to a panel of venture capitalists.
Audiallo, and XeroMax of Brigham Young University, finished first and second. GeneWeave Biosciences LLC, a University of Arkansas team that is developing rapid diagnostic tests to detect the presence of toxic and drug-resistant bacteria, was third.
With the win, and accompanying money and recognition, Degnan is eager to get back to work in “trying to make our dream a reality,” which, at least initially, will center on developing a smaller version of their hearing-aid microchip.
“I’m very excited,” Degnan said. “This gives us a lot of momentum going forward.”
Yekula, the Social track winner, said India has a scarcity of water, and his company is committed to addressing the problem. Clean India offers a water-recycling service for small- and medium-scale enterprises in India on an on-demand basis.
“We’ve attended a lot of competitions, but after making multiple changes to our presentation based on understanding what is important to investors… I’m glad that somebody honored us. This is just a testament to what we are doing.”
Prairie Designs Inc. finished second in the Social competition. The team, from Texas Christian University, is developing “green” roofing that can be used in areas that are normally prone to draught including Southwest U.S. The group is developing a green-roof mulching system and, according to the team, is working on green-roofed pavilion at the PGA Colonial Golf Tournament.
Solarcycle, the third-place finisher from Georgetown University, has developed a low-cost reflective material made from plastic bags and metalized chip bags. The technology replaces mirrors in solar concentrating applications such as solar cookers and water pasteurizers.
Stan Mandel is an executive professor and director of the Angell Center for Entrepreneurship at the Babcock School. He is also a founder of the Elevator Competition. “This is always one of the most invigorating weekends of my life, and this was no disappointment,” Mandel said.
Altria and SilkRoad Technology were the primary sponsors for the 2009 event.