Engineering start-ups compete at statewide venture competition

April 26, 2016

Two Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering student-led start-ups earned $1,500 apiece for their ventures at the Arizona Collegiate Venture Competition (ACVC) at the ASU Innovation Center at Skysong on April 8.

The competition was sponsored by Hool Coury LawMAC6 and Draper University and included 11 student teams from Arizona State University, University of Arizona (UA), Northern Arizona University (NAU) and Grand Canyon University (GCU), who pitched to a panel of judges for $60,000 in cash prizes, a Draper University scholarship and the Territorial Cup trophy. Taraka Sai Pavan Grandhi (left) and Russell Urie, doctoral students in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, pitch their company Synergyan at the fourth annual Arizona Collegiate Venture Competition at the Arizona State University Innovation Center at Skysong on April 8. Photo by Hayden Taylor/ASU Download Full Image

Tech Dispatcher and Synergyan, both led by engineering students, finished in third place, tying with two student ventures from GCU and one from NAU.

Tech Dispatcher’s pitch netted the team a $1,500 investment. Incubated in the Fulton Schools Startup Center’s eSeed Challenge, Tech Dispatcher is a new service aimed at providing hassle-free tech support to both businesses and individuals at the push of a button.

“ACVC was a great experience, and seeing what the other universities were working on was the most exciting part for us,” says Dallas Grantham, ASU alumnus and co-founder of Tech Dispatcher. “After it was all said and done, we learned that you better bring your ‘A’ game to any start-up competition here in Arizona — serious ventures are coming out of every single university.”

The tech support start-up earned its spot to compete in ACVC following a successful pitch to entrepreneur Tom Prescott, former president and CEO of Align Technologies Inc., on a trip to Silicon Valley that culminated the eSeed Challenge’s first year. Competing in ACVC provided another opportunity for the company to refine its pitch with feedback from investors and network with fellow entrepreneurs.

“We literally started as a phone-repair company, and while we always had IT in mind, we were just fixing iPhone screens to make enough cash to pay for our office in Tempe,” recalls Brandon Garrett, co-founder and aerospace engineering student. “Now we’re working with big businesses in Arizona and exploring new relationships. I think we’ve come a long way.”

Synergyan, a biosciences company with a focus on molecular and nanoscale bioengineering and synergistic therapies, also brought in $1,500 at the competition. It was co-founded by Fulton Schools doctoral students Russell Urie and Taraka Sai Pavan Grandhi, along with ASU associate professor Kaushal Rege and Senior Research Manager Mehul Patel, who serve as scientific and business advisers, respectively.

A product of ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative, Synergyan is already hard at work to advance the technology for its first product idea, Welseal, a novel protein-based surgical adhesive biomaterial that promotes rapid healing of soft tissue tears.

“ACVC was a good learning experience for us in the entrepreneurial domain,” says Grandhi. “As for next steps, Synergyan is actively working toward setting up the company to pursue federal funding for furthering the research and development necessary for product development.”

At the competition, Worksphere from UA took the trophy home to Tucson and netted $5,500 along with a Draper University Scholarship. LetsChat, led by W. P. Carey School of Business students, placed second, earning $4,500 and will join Worksphere on the Draper University campus in Silicon Valley for an intensive seven-week course on entrepreneurship.

“If this year is any indication, I’m incredibly excited to what will come out the next eSeed Challenge round. I look forward to watching the existing teams develop further as well,” says Brent Sebold, director of the Startup Center.

Applications for the fall 2016 eSeed Challenge close at noon April 29.

Pete Zrioka

Managing editor, Knowledge Enterprise


Cronkite School opens alumni applications for Knight Innovation Grant

April 26, 2016

Journalists seeking to innovate in their newsrooms can find support in a grant program sponsored by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for graduates of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.

The Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grants provide up to $15,000 for projects that introduce innovative practices or tools in newsrooms. Knight-Cronkite Innovation Grant Over the past year and a half, the Cronkite School has awarded 15 grants totaling more than $190,000 through the Knight-Cronkite Alumni Innovation Grant for projects that range from experiments in virtual reality and other new ways to engage digital-native audiences to the development of a crowdfunding tool for background checks on public officials. Download Full Image

Over the past year and a half, the school has awarded 15 grants totaling more than $190,000 for projects that range from experiments in virtual reality and other new ways to engage digital-native audiences to the development of a crowdfunding tool for background checks on public officials and a new kind of digital newspaper rack.

Knight Foundation President Alberto Ibargüen announced the grant program during the Cronkite School’s May 2014 convocation ceremony, during which he challenged Cronkite graduates to disrupt the status quo in newsrooms.

Applications for the last round of grants are being accepted through July 1, 2016, at Winners will be notified before the end of July.

To be eligible, applicants must be Cronkite School graduates working in newsrooms. They also must demonstrate they have support from their news organizations’ leadership and technology departments, and they must report project outcomes to the Cronkite School.

Recent recipients include:

  • Cailyn Bradley, a 2012 graduate who serves as an associate producer for Discovery Digital Networks, is using a grant to produce a virtual reality project to explore the criminal justice system from the perspective of a prisoner.
  • Jayson Peters, a 2001 graduate and digital media director of the Pueblo Chieftain in Pueblo, Colorado, is building a digital media studio with new tools and technologies to inspire staff to innovate and expand storytelling options.
  • Danielle Peterson, a 2005 graduate who is a photographer at the Statesman Journal newspaper in Salem, Oregon, is working with other staff members to develop a mobile app allowing readers to easily search for hikes and other recreational opportunities in Oregon.
  • Bruce Tomaso, a 1975 Cronkite graduate who is an assistant metro editor at the Dallas Morning News, is using the grant to explore new ways to engage digital-native audiences, with a focus on the paper’s opinion content.

Some of the Cronkite School’s most important programs are supported by the Knight Foundation, including Carnegie-Knight News21, a national fellowship program in which top journalism students conduct investigations into issues critical to Americans; the Public Insight Network Bureau, a specialized news bureau where students work with professional news organizations to deepen their connections to audiences; and the Knight Chair in Journalism, a tenured professorship at Cronkite currently held by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Steve Doig.