Olin Cup entrepreneurship contest winners named; Luminomics is 1st

In this year’s Olin Cup entrepreneurship competition, the Olin School of Business has awarded a total of $70,000 in seed investment capital to two startup businesses.

The awards were announced Dec. 2 at a reception in Simon Hall.

The Olin Cup for first place, 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.

An 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 A. Harrington, managing director of the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, which sponsors the competition. “A business startup 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 Web site.”

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

Luminomics was founded by Jeffrey S. Mumm, Ph.D. 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, said Mumm, who earned a doctorate in biology and biomedical sciences from the University. 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 School undergraduate and graduate students. The first nonprofit 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 Web site, 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 an 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 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 School teams. More than 50 business-school teams registered in this year’s competition.

Ten teams made it to the semifinalist round; five teams were selected as finalists.

Those finalists made two-minute “elevator pitches,” prepared detailed business plans and made final presentations to the Olin Cup judges.

“The Olin Cup competition adds to the vibrant St. Louis startup community,” Harrington said. “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 School business students and alumni.

An event Feb. 10 will mark the opening of registration for new teams for the next Olin Cup entrepreneurship competition. Teams may then register at 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 WUSTL 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. WUSTL received a grant of $3 million.