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A team from Paris will get the $25,000 top prize at a student-business concept challenge.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech graduate Stephen Epstein presents his PureAir inhaler during the fourth annual VT KnowledgeWorks Global Student Business Concept Challenge at the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center on Thursday.
JOEL HAWKSLEY | The Roanoke Times
Spectators listen as Virginia Tech graduate Stephen Epstein presents his PureAir inhaler during the fourth annual VT KnowledgeWorks Global Student Business Concept Challenge at Hotel Roanoke in Roanoke on Thursday.
Friday, August 23, 2013
A slew of languages floated around the lobby of the Hotel Roanoke & Conference Center on Thursday, as entrepreneurs from around the world brought their business concepts to Virginia to compete for $25,000 worth of funding that could help make their ideas become realities.
Each of the 14 college teams in the annual VT KnowledgeWorks’ Global Student Business Concept Challenge are still in the planning phase, but they gave their elevator pitches with the confidence of established corporations.
A team from Egypt came up with a way to translate text into sign language using animated avatars, and one from Mexico wants to facilitate transactions between soccer clubs and amateur players.
But it was the team from Paris that really impressed the judges.
Sarah Cherruault and François Dupayrat will receive the $25,000 grand prize to develop Auticiel, a company that makes mobile apps to help people overcome the challenges of cognitive disabilities. Their apps teach users skills like how to read facial and social cues, and about the concept of time.
Second place went to Team Roka, an Australian group that plans to help relieve Indian poverty by helping women there sell jewelry made from quarry dust. Team GraphInsight, from Italy, won the People’s Choice Award with its 3D data visualization tool. Both of these teams will take home $5,000.
The competition caps off the Fourth Annual VT KnowledgeWorks Global Partnership Week, an event that invites entrepreneurial students from all over the world to interact and share ideas in the Roanoke-Blacksburg area.
Each team had to win qualifying rounds in their own country before making it to this week’s main event.
They arrived on Sunday and spent the week touring the area and working with local coaches to tweak their pitches.
Questful, an Austrian program that lets conference audiences submit questions online so they don’t have to raise their hand, spent a month working with Automation Creations Inc., a Blacksburg-based software company. ACI President Henry Bass said they watched videos of Questful’s presentation and critiqued the little details that can make a big difference in these kinds of competitions.
Once they got on stage, each team had 20 minutes to present their idea and field questions from a panel of business experts who judged the competition. They were evaluated on a variety of criteria, including how well they presented their product, the need for their product and the financial outlook of their company.
Now that the competition is over, the concepts’ futures are uncertain. Some, like a Chilean team that presented a photo-sharing app called Blink Me last year, will go on to hire employees and launch a product fairly quickly. Others, like the Canadian team that won last year’s grand prize with a medical device for cardiac arrest patients, have a lot more work to do before taking a company to the next level.
“I need about $500,000 to really make a successful market entry,” local competitor and Virginia Tech graduate student Stephen Epstein said before his presentation.
His idea was a product named PureAir that he calls the “world’s smallest and most portable emergency asthma inhaler.” He hasn’t built a prototype yet, but recently filed provisional patents on designs that would get the device down to the size of a tube of ChapStick.
He spent the week leading up to the competition working with TechLab, a Virginia Tech biotechnology spinoff company.
“They’ve really helped me sharpen a lot of holes that I had [in my pitch],” he said. “That, to me, is a reward in itself.”
Lindsey Eversole , outreach manager for VT KnowledgeWorks , said a major goal of the event is to let students from opposite sides of the world interact and form relationships.
“It’s a global economy,” Bass said. “Being able to put resources together to fill a need in the market is a universal problem. The people who do it best and do it first are the ones who are going to succeed. What a great event to bring all these countries together to compare those.”
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