Olin Cup awards $70,000 in seed investment to entrepreneurship competition winners

Biotechnology company, not-for-profit organization take top honors

The John M. Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis have awarded a total of $70,000 in seed investment capital to two startup businesses in its annual Olin Cup entrepreneurship competition.

The awards were announced Dec. 2 at a reception at Simon Hall on the Hilltop Campus.

The Olin Cup, along with $50,000 in seed money, went to Luminomics, a biotechnology company that develops regenerative drug therapies for degenerative diseases. An award of $20,000 went to The Blessing Basket, a not-for-profit company that imports baskets made by weavers in undeveloped countries. Honorable mention was given to Core Devices, maker of a portable anesthesia machine.

“We’ve created an open, inclusive environment for team formation,” said Kenneth Harrington, managing director of the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, which sponsors the annual competition. “A business start-up idea can be submitted from anywhere in the University or community and funding will be made available to teams having only one Washington University student or alumnus on the team. But we are also actively searching for sponsors and corporate partners who are interested in the promotional aspects of our program, including prominent representation on the new Olin Cup website.”

One of the primary goals of the Olin Cup competition, Harrington said, is “cross-campus collaboration” between the top-ranked business, medical, law, engineering, and other schools at Washington University in St. Louis and among the vibrant and diverse business community leaders in the St. Louis area.

Luminomics was founded by Jeff Mumm, who holds a doctorate from Washington University. The company creates disease models and performs high-throughput screens to discover small molecules that stimulate cellular regeneration. Lead compounds capable of stimulating regeneration in the model system will be used to identify regenerative therapies for humans. Luminomics is focused on four major neurodegenerative disorders, but the platform can be applied to any degenerative disease state or condition, Mumm said. Accordingly, the company is partnering with other companies to provide tailor-made disease models and screening outsource services for their specific degenerative targets. The company is aggressively marketing the technology for out-licensing while pursuing drug discovery-based in-house research designed to capture sizeable portions of the degenerative disease market and bring a minimum of 25 times return on investment in the next five years.

The Blessing Basket Project was founded by Theresa Wilson, whose team includes Olin undergraduate and graduate students. The first non-profit entry in Olin Cup history, The Blessing Basket — 501(c)3 pending— is a social entrepreneurship venture started more than a year ago in pilot locations in six developing countries. The Blessing Basket pays weavers in undeveloped countries the prosperity wage (which is multiples higher than the local average), imports high-quality baskets and sells them via its website, direct sales and retail relationships. Revenues above expenses are reinvested into additional product and economic/community development projects.

Core Devices, founded by John Izuchukwu, received honorable mention for its portable anesthesia machine. The machine is designed to facilitate the delivery of care outside traditional hospital settings. Likely applications include civilian and military operations as well as private physician’s clinics, rural hospital settings and austere environments anywhere in the world.

Judges and team mentors for the Olin Cup competition were selected from the St. Louis community as well as nationally, Harrington said, and were matched with Olin’s business school teams. More than 50 business school teams registered in this year’s Olin Cup competition. Ten teams made it to the semi-finalist round and five teams were selected as finalists. The five finalists made two-minute “elevator pitches,” prepared detailed business plans, and made final presentations to the Olin Cup judges, resulting in the two winners receiving seed funding for their companies.

“The Olin Cup competition adds to the vibrant St. Louis start-up community,” said Harrington. “It’s truly amazing to see how quickly companies form when people from different disciplines create a collaborative environment.”

The annual Olin Cup Competition was founded in 1987 as part of the Hatchery entrepreneurship course at the Olin School. The Olin Cup competition as a separate entity was launched in 2002 with a new emphasis on life sciences, medicine, and technology startups, as well as other student-started ventures. To date, the competition has resulted in the formation of more than 50 new businesses by Olin business students and alumni.

The next 2005 Olin Cup entrepreneurship competition will kick-off at an event Feb. 10 – opening registration for new teams. Teams may then register online at: http://www.olin.wustl.edu/cel/olinCup/register.cfm.

The Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies is one of the Top 25 business school entrepreneurship programs nationwide, based upon Entrepreneur Magazine’s comprehensive rankings. It is a member of the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation National Consortium for Life Science Entrepreneurship. The Kauffman Foundation recently selected Washington University in St. Louis as one of eight U.S. universities to share $25 million in grants through a program designed to make entrepreneurship education available across campus and transform the way entrepreneurship is viewed, taught and experienced. Washington University in St. Louis received a grant of $3 million to support campus-wide entrepreneurship programs.