Utah student entrepreneurs win $40K for their inventions
SALT LAKE CITY — Some very creative young minds took the top prize at one of the state's most coveted college business idea competitions.
More than 2,000 students from 14 college campuses across the state competed in the annual Utah Entrepreneur Challenge, but three BYU students came away with the $40,000 grand prize for their invention that turns off power to appliances in the event of a fire alarm.
The device, called Active Alarm, detects the alarm and shuts off power to the stove, thereby eliminating the threat of fire. The invention earned Peter Thorpe, Rhett Weller and Michael Sanders the UEC top honor.
The annual business plan competition is based at the University of Utah and is open to university students statewide. Winners are evaluated on the quality of their invention or product and their strategy for selling it.
“Stove fires are the second-most common source of fire-related deaths,” said Thorpe, speaking about the impetus for their grand prize-winning invention.
This year’s event included ideas ranging from medical devices to bakeries and was hosted by the Pierre Lassonde Entrepreneur Center, along with the David Eccles School of Business in conjunction with sponsor Zions Bank. More than $100,000 in cash and prizes were awarded, said UEC co-chair Josh Hadley.
"We help make business dreams a reality … as we reward these teams for their innovation and ingenuity," he said.
A University of Utah team called Ligadon won both the Best Technology and Best Written Business Plan awards. Ligadon's submission provided an alternative to the predominant suture method used for ligament and tendon tears, reducing the risk of a repeat injury.
Creator Dolly Holt said entering the competition was a nerve-racking, yet rewarding experience.
“You just go for it," she said. "You never think your idea is that good, but then it gets validated by professional judges and mentors. … Suddenly, you realize you might have something revolutionary.”
Power Practical, a Utah Valley University team, won the Best Presentation Award with its Power Pot. The device combines a heat source and water in a cooking pot to create electricity that can then be used to charge USB devices.
Other finalist ideas included a virtual ID badge designed to increase hospital security, a cervical dilation measurement device, ultrasonic frequency channeling for protein removal on contact lenses and bed-sore prevention maneuvers using air bladders to shift pressure points. Other notable finalists were Lithe Medical — which seeks to decrease spinal cord surgery time — and FlexLeg, which promoted an artificial leg in place of a crutch for people with a temporary lower leg injury, like a broken ankle.
Besides prize money, winners also receive free consultative services, professional feedback and network connections to aid in the implementation of their business plans.
“This process is so beneficial because it has so many real-world applications,” said Jeff Ehlers, of the Lithe Medical team. “We’ve had some great mentors who offered many perspectives to help us refine our product and vision. Speaking to the judges also has been an ideal practice run for pitching our company to investors.”
According to Hadley, UEC is the third and final competition in the annual Utah Entrepreneur Series. Many UEC entrants also entered the first two competitions in the series — techTITANS and Opportunity Quest.
“The Utah Entrepreneur Series has proven to be a win-win opportunity for both our business community and student participants,” said Scott Anderson, president and chief executive officer of Zions Bank.