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Technology and business merge at UW Burrill Competition

MADISON – The seventh annual G. Steven Burrill Technology Business Plan Competition proved to be a fountain of new ideas and student creativity, as 14 teams of University of Wisconsin-Madison students met at Grainger Hall Friday, April 23 to exhibit their business plans to a panel of judges.

“The main goal is to give students across campus an opportunity to create new businesses…get out of the faculty in terms of judgment,” said Anne Miner, professor of business at UW-Madison and head organizer of the competition. “These are the students who have both science and business knowledge, and we want to give them an experience that brings them together.”

The first-place award of $10,000 was given to the Spine Dr. company, consisting of biomedical engineering students John Pucinelli and Scott Wiese, recent graduate Brian Asti and business Masters of Accountancy student Chad Empey. Their design and business plan consists of an accessory for MR and CT scan machines, based on the principal of isometric rotation to analyze the movement of vertebrae when the spine is at the center of rotation. This makes it possible to compare differences in intervertebral disk positions and determine problems that may result from spinal breakdown.

“The biggest boost is just giving us the confidence that a business like this could be successful someday,” Asti said of the team’s victory. “We can point to the fact that we’re not the only ones who think we will be a success.”

The second-place prize of $7,000 was awarded to BriteIce Technologies for a system designed to create multiple illuminated advertisements on ice surfaces for hockey games. Developed by mechanical engineering students Michael Casper and Anthony Nichol and consumer science undergraduate Paul Hohag, this project is currently being tested at the Kohl Center.
Third place was granted to Auris Solutions, giving $4,000 to MBA students Asad Alam, KimAnh To, Lance Mikus and Orlando Rivera, for their creation of a product designed to help improve the detection of hearing defects. The $1,000 fourth-place award was given to bioengineering student Nate Altfeather and Masters of Business Administration student Ricky Lam for their company Mercury and its analytical device designed to examine and strengthen athletic performance.

Additionally, awards rewarding business plans with distinct societal benefits were given to Green Automotive Systems for its plan focused on hydrogen cell cars, and to Good Neighbor Inc. for a grocery delivery system. Avella Nets was also specially awarded for the innovation involved in the design of its stronger ice fishing net.

Virtually all teams said they found the most important point of the competition to develop a balance between business and technology. Since students from these two disciplines move in different circles, opportunities for collaboration are often limited, making the competition a rather unique experience for both parties.

“You have to realize that business and engineering [students] think differently,” said Jon Kuchenreuther, vice president of operations for of Green Automobile Systems, “so it was interesting to work together.”

“It was absolutely crucial for our company,” Asti said of the cross-college collaboration. “Neither the business nor the engineering is self-supporting, but the balance we achieved helped make this plan a success.”

Nick Passint, president of Avella Nets, praised the competition for giving his company further impetus to develop a business plan. “It forced us to come up with some kind of business outline…it’s been a natural thing,” he said.

Additionally, this year’s competition will not only be beneficial for participating students, but for the state as well. Both Spine Dr. and BriteIce will now be automatic finalists in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Competition, allowing them to introduce their ideas to an even broader base of interested parties.

“We believe [the Burrill Competition] is improving both as an educational experience for the students, and as a resource for the state of Wisconsin,” Miner said.

Miner feels that all participants, regardless of level of success, gain something from the competition that will allow them to prosper in other areas. “Some who don’t win tell us they see what they need to do to make it work — the fact that they did this changes their feeling about what they want to do.”

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