Olin Cup business competition awards $90,000

Three early stage companies got a leg up after winning the annual Olin Cup competition. The firms received commitments for funding and mentoring support at the Olin Cup Awards Ceremony Feb. 1 at the John M. Olin School of Business. The three were selected from a group of seven finalists, culled from 25 entries.

MBA student Peter K. Braxton (left) shares the Olin Cup with Daniel McChesney, chief executive of NeuroLife Noninvasive Solutions, after their firm won the business competition Feb. 1.
MBA student Peter K. Braxton (left) shares the Olin Cup with Daniel McChesney, chief executive of NeuroLife Noninvasive Solutions, after their firm won the business competition Feb. 1.

The top prize of $50,000 went to medical-device company NeuroLife Noninvasive Solutions. Two other companies each received $20,000 in funding: Senetric, which developed software to reduce the cost of radio-frequency identification sensor networks, and Smart DNA Solutions, which offers affordable genetic testing. The total of $90,000 was the highest award ever given.

The $5,000 student award went to Peter K. Braxton, an MBA candidate and chief marketing officer of NeuroLife.

NeuroLife is the brainchild of Peter’s brother, Ernest E. Braxton, M.D., the company’s chief scientific officer.

NeuroLife’s medical device solves a high-cost problem for physicians, hospitals and insurers by providing a non-invasive instrument to measure intracranial pressure (ICP), a critical metric by which neurosurgeons and other physicians treat patients at risk for brain damage and death. Current standards of care require surgery to measure ICP, placing patients at risk for infection, bleeding and brain damage. NeuroLife’s technology exploits the close anatomic relationship between the eye and the brain to measure ICP non-invasively, providing a faster, safer, easy-to-use ICP-measurement product.

Mahendra R. Gupta, Ph.D., dean of the business school and the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil Professor of Accounting and Management, said Olin Cup participants continue to amaze him for their creativity and diversity.

“It’s inspiring to see students, alumni, faculty and community members interacting,” Gupta said of the competition. “All those elements spur creativity and energy as they launch these ventures. I am gratified by the broad industry mix and the scope of opportunities.”

Ken Harrington, managing director of the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, which organizes the competition, said, “The quality of the competitor concepts and plans continues upward. These seven finalists made it difficult for our judges and investment committee to select the awardees. We were so pleased with the quality that we increased our investment commitment from $70,000 to $90,000 and selected three awardees.”

Innovate St. Louis, chaired by William A. Peck, M.D., the Alan A. & Edith L. Wolff Distinguished Professor of Medicine, director of the Center for Health Policy and former executive vice chancellor and dean of the School of Medicine, will work with the organization’s mentoring service to recruit mentor teams for Neurolife and Smart DNA Solutions.

Peck said supporting these local ventures is critical to their success.

“We wanted to offer our support to these high-quality Olin Cup winners,” Peck said. “Last year, the St. Louis community supported [2005 Olin Cup winner] Somark Innovations, and it proved to us that community mentoring spurred them on to great accomplishments, further funding and now, global recognition. That is why we are formalizing and organizing the mentoring service at Innovate, to support the St. Louis community with a mentoring organization for different types of ventures at varying stages of maturity.”

The other organization offering mentoring support is the Entrepreneurs Organization (EO).

“EO is interested in mentoring companies that are generating revenue and starting to grow,” said Chris Schoenecker, an EO board member. “Our Accelerator program enables first-stage entrepreneurial teams to take their business to the next level and empowers leaders with tools to grow their business and become better entrepreneurs. We are focused on helping companies that are accelerating their revenue growth.”

Founded in 1985, the Olin Cup competition seeks to harness the entrepreneurial potential of the University and the St. Louis region through collaboration, learning and funding.

In 2001, with support from the Skandalaris family, the competition began awarding as much as $70,000 in seed money. Since 2005, a $5,000 prize also has been awarded to the best student-owned or -supported venture.

The competition is open to students in all schools at the University, alumni and the local business community.

To qualify for funding, a team must include one current student or alumnus. To date, the competition has resulted in the formation of more than 50 new businesses by business school students and alumni.