2005 Olin Cup winners announced

Proposals for tracking cattle and helping the hearing impaired to receive $70,000

Two teams of entrepreneurs have won Washington University’s 2005 Olin Cup. Somark Innovations, Inc. and iMobile Access Technologies, or iMAT, will receive a total of $70,000 in seed funding for their enterprises. An additional $5,000 grant for student projects will be split between two winners: HomeWUrk and Suzanne Shenkman Designs.

The awards were announced Dec. 1 at a ceremony featuring Robert J. Skandalaris, founder and chairman of Noble International.

Somark Innovations, Inc., which will receive $50,000 of the seed money, is the brainchild of Ramos M. Mays and Mark Pydynowski. Mays developed an identification and tracking system that works like an Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip, but without a physical microchip or antenna. Instead, the system uses a biocompatible material that the FDA has already approved and that can be used to tag anything from clothing to people. Somark intends to market the product initially to livestock owners, in response to a recent USDA mandate that requires the identification and tracking of cattle. Once the entrepreneurs obtain enough capital to develop a prototype, they expect the product to be ready for market within 15 to 20 months.

The second winner of the 2005 Olin Cup, iMAT, is also a high-tech company, but one that focuses on improving communication for the deaf or hard of hearing. Founder Stephen Foster was born deaf and has developed a wearable device that transcribes what spoken words into text that the user can read. Foster said the device may come in the form of eyeglasses that can project the text into the user’s field of vision. iMAT is working with several technological and design partners on an advanced prototype that could be available in early 2006.

The student winners business concepts are both service oriented. Teddy Purnomo, a junior year business student, founded HomeWUrk, a company that assists college students as they move into their dormitories. HomeWUrk will sell decorative items, electronics and toiletries to dormitory dwellers and their parents. To help customize their selections, students can go online and create a mock-image of their room with the selected items in place. The company will deliver the merchandise directly to campus.

Suzanne Shankman, a second-year MBA student, founded a company to create clothing and accessories from vintage neckties. Suzanne Shankman Designs will sell belts, wristbands and throw pillows to fashion conscious consumers interested in products that are original in concept and unique in design.

More than 20 judges selected the winners from an initial field of at least 50 proposals which were narrowed down as contestants completed a series of presentations and meetings. Six teams were finalists. Olin Cup judges typically represent angel investors, executives and venture capitalists.

“Every year the Olin Cup competitors are higher quality. This year it was even harder for the judges to pick a winner,” said Ken Harrington, executive director of the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. “I think IdeaBounce is part of it but the ventures are just steadily improving. I’m sure that we’ll see this continue again next year, especially in the students’ competition.”

The annual Olin Cup Competition was founded in 1988 as part of The Hatchery entrepreneurship course at the Olin School. The Olin Cup Competition began awarding up to $70,000 in seed funding in 2001 with the support of the Skandalaris family. This year is the first time that an additional $5,000 grant was awarded to the best student teams.

To date, the competition has resulted in the formation of more than 50 new businesses by business students and alumni.

“It’s encouraging to see the Olin Cup Competition add to the entrepreneurial spirit of St. Louis,” said Harrington.

In 2003, the Kauffman Foundation 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.