First all-undergraduate team among Olin Cup winners

Three teams, including the first all-undergraduate team to place, earned a total of $140,000 during the annual Olin Cup commercial business plan competition finals Jan. 30 in Simon Hall.

Members of MMBiosensing LLC — Robbie Garrison, Amos Danielli, Gabe Santa-Cruz and Abu Abraham (left to right) — admire the Olin Cup Jan. 30 after being named one of this year’s winning teams. (Credit: Mary Butkus)

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, the judges were so impressed with the quality of the teams that more than $100,000 was awarded.

“The fact that we decided to award nearly twice as much funding this year is indicative of what’s happening on campus and in the community,” says Ken Harrington, managing director of the Skandalaris Center.

The Olin Cup began as a standalone (formerly part of an entrepreneurship course) business formation competition in 2003, and the quality of teams has increased every year.

“It takes a long time for the culture to grow, and this year, our first all-undergraduate team (Sparo Labs) not only made it to the finals, but won funding for their venture,” Harrington says.

“All of our finalist teams have advanced their ideas from where they started, thanks to the strong support system for entrepreneurs that has developed. And these teams will share the knowledge and experience they have gained with the next group of Olin Cup teams.”

Winning teams

  • MMBiosensing LLC, a startup that has invented and patented a new method of detecting the bio-markers of heart attack, was awarded $50,000.
  • Sparo Labs, a medical device company that has developed a new spirometer to monitor lung function, was awarded $30,000. The team consists of four WUSTL undergraduate students.
  • Emergent Sensor Technologies, maker of filtration devices to improve beer brewing efficiency, was awarded $20,000. The team also was awarded $25,000 from the Skandalaris Student Venture Fund.

Each of the three teams also received a $5,000 cash prize, as they include current students or young alumni who worked on the ventures while they were students.

“The student grant means a lot to us because we are the first team of only undergraduate students to win it,” says Abigail Cohen, one of the Sparo Labs team members and a senior biomedical engineering major. “For us to be named one of the winners and also to get a $30,000 investment was a big milestone for us, and it means a lot to us.”

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

“We’re a hardworking team,” Cohen says. “Hard work pays off sometimes and it has paid off for us. We’ve got a good product, and people see that, and people also see that we’re really passionate about it and really excited about where it could go. We’re going to work our best and hardest to get it where it needs to be.”

The Olin Cup is sponsored by Olin Business School and the Skandalaris Center for Entrepreneurial Studies at Washington University; the Regional Chamber and Growth Association; RubinBrown LLP; Polsinelli Shughart PC; and Lopata, Flegel & Company LLP.