Three start-ups share Olin Cup prize

Companies to share up to $150,000 award in annual competition

In a move reflecting the wave of entrepreneurial activity happening in the region, an unprecedented three teams were selected to receive up to $50,000 each at the annual Olin Cup awards ceremony Feb. 1.

Sponsored by the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Washington University in St. Louis, the Olin Cup typically awards $70,000 in seed investment money to fund start-up businesses, and a $5,000 student prize.

This year, investments may total up to $150,000 for three teams:

  • SoMoLend, a web- and mobile-based peer-to-peer lending company;
  • Eyelten Therapeutics, a company designed to develop therapies to treat age-related macular degeneration; and
  • Loadmaster Toolkit, a pocket computer with custom software to streamline loading and managing cargo on military airlifters.

The $5,000 student prize was awarded to Ryan Rakestraw, a first-year MBA student at Olin Business School and a member of Freiezo LLC, a company developing high-efficiency distributed wind energy systems.

Winners may receive in-kind services from one or more of the competition sponsors in addition to any cash investment. Olin Cup awards to this year’s teams also may be supplemented by additional investments through the Skandalaris Student Venture Fund (SSVF).

SSVF is a course that helps students develop practical skills and disciplines necessary to succeed in angel, venture and private equity investing. Students work with angel investors, venture capital funds, and private equity firms.

“This year’s 40 entrants for the annual competition were outstanding,” says Ken Harrington, managing director of the Skandalaris Center. “All of the finalists had viable business plans and are making great progress.”

Ron Bassuner (left), CEO of Eyelten Therapeutics, and Kunal Rehani, co-founder of the company, admire the Olin Cup after being named one of the winners of the annual competition Feb. 1. (Credit: Mary Butkus)

Harrington announced the winners during the annual awards ceremony, which was held in Simon Hall.

Joe Reagan, president and CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and Growth Association, presented the keynote address.

The ceremony was the culmination of a four-month competition among the contestants.

“This is one of the best years of the Olin Cup we’ve ever had,” Harrington says. “We are also honored that Joe Reagan agreed to come here on his first day on the job to speak about innovation and entrepreneurship.

“So many great things — Arch Grants, Capital Innovators, the recent Startup Weekend — are increasing the support system for entrepreneurs and helping to build the innovation environment in our city.”

“Macular degeneration is a devastating
disease, which leads to blindness if not treated. Current treatments
are not inexpensive and only about two-thirds of patients gain vision
with treatment,” says Ron Bassuner, Eyelten CEO and co-founder, with Rajendra Apte, MD, PhD, associate professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences at the Washington University School of Medicine.

“Dr. Apte discovered a new drug target for the disease and we have several high potential drug candidates for that target,” Bassuner says. “We have a stellar team and the support of the Missouri Technology Corporation. We are making great progress and winning the Olin Cup helps us to generate the resources to continue successfully.”

The Olin Cup is sponsored by Olin Business School and the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Washington University; the RCGA; RubinBrown LLP; St. Louis Commerce Magazine; Polsinelli Shughart PC; and Lopata Flegel & Company LLP.