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Edson program backs student businesses


June 17, 2008

If you're a skateboarder, animal lover, teacher or alternative-energy supporter, there's something to catch your attention in this year's crop of student-run businesses newly planted at SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center.

The Edson Student Entrepreneur Initiative has chosen 16 proposals for funding of $2,000 to $20,000 starting July 1.

Twelve of the ideas are new this year, while four were funded last year and proved promising enough to win a second year of funding.

The new business ideas were selected out of a record 146 applications.

"Every year the competition gets a little more fierce and the quality of presentations gets better," said Scott Perkofski, Edson program manager.

The initiative started in 2004 when John Edson, who founded the Bayliner Marine Corp. company in his garage and grew it into the largest manufacturers of pleasure and luxury boats, gave Arizona State University $5.4 million to foster student businesses.

Since then, the program has financed and mentored more than60 young ventures, both for profit and non-profit.

 

One of SkySong new tenants

 

It moved to SkySong from the Brickyard building on ASU's Tempe campus when SkySong opened in January.

Funding amounts depended on the judges' estimate of the new companies' budget needs and stage of development, Perkofski said.

The program makes the payments directly to the companies that sell products or the professionals who provide services to the student teams. Eligible expenses include product prototypes, market research and legal fees for incorporations, trademarks or patents.

Teams also will have their own desk space, phone and computer at SkySong, along with mentors from local businesses and the chance to network with other SkySong tenants.

The access to business leaders and investors who visit SkySong has proved attractive to the students, along with the building's free parking, Perkofski said.

Here's a sampling of some of the first-year business ideas that will be taking shape in the Edson program over the next year. Next week, we'll look at the four firms that made it through the first year alive and growing.

 

Genghis Skate LLC

 

What company does: Manufactures and sells wheels and wheel mounts for longboards, the longer type of skateboard used for downhill racing. Genghis' wheels are designed to give a very predictable ride at speed.

How he got the idea: Founder Josh Madsen, an ASU junior in computer science engineering, got hooked on longboarding while visiting a friend in Austin. Though he wrecked badly on that visit, he stayed interested and realized that longboarding and skateboarding had not made many technological advancements since their inception in the 1950s and 1960s.

Stage of development: Genghis Skate has researched, designed, tested and redesigned its wheels, which are made of urethane, aerospace aluminum and steel. It is gearing up for production.

How Edson program helps: Madsen plans to use his $20,000 award to reduce production costs, develop the brand and create a Web site to promote and sell the products.

 

Tutela Health

 

What company does: Will develop software to improve communication between assisted living facilities and residents' families.

How they got the idea: Founders Glenn Grossman, Bill O'Brien and Andy Lowe, 2008 graduates of ASU's technology MBA program, researched other ideas in health care before being inspired by the case of Grossman's 99-year-old grandmother. She lives in an assisted living facility in Los Angeles, and the team saw a need for a Web-based communications platform that would help family members keep up with residents' non-medical needs and share messages and videos. Tutela is Latin for "caring and protection."

Stage of development: They are defining the first version of their software and marketing it to facilities as a way to differentiate their services.

How Edson program helps: Being accepted into the program helps validate their idea to potential investors, and working with ASU helps open doors at potential clients, Grossman said. The three plan to use their $20,000 award for product development and marketing.

 

Las Otras Hermanas

 

What it does: Helps women in Juarez, Mexico, produce an affordable, socially conscious clothing line and improve their economic opportunities.

How they got idea: Co-founders Charis Elliott and Catherine Traywick were working with a student group, Women Without Borders, on economic, educational and health issues in Juarez when they became involved with a neighborhood-run handicraft center. They want to create a venture that will allow the women at the center to use their skills, earn a living and reach larger markets. Las Otras Hermanas is Spanish for "the other sisters."

Stage of development: The organization is obtaining its non-profit status, developing its Web site and working with local artists on product development.

How Edson program helps: The group will use part of its $20,000 award to develop its products and pay a living wage to workers. The funds also will help pay for marketing, community development and infrastructure, and a campaign to raise social awareness of issues affecting women in the area.