For the fifth consecutive year, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Research Park and Center for Entrepreneurship hosted the Launch Your Venture competition, sponsored by Boeing HorizonX, offering student-CEOs from across Florida and their teams the opportunity to pitch business ideas to industry experts for a chance to win a portion of $18,000 in seed funding.
The first-place winner, Swally, a budgeting app company from Stetson University, took home $10,000. Make-Print, a decentralized 3D-printing firm from the Florida Institute of Technology, won second place and $5,000. And BrainForce, a company from the University of Florida that is designing a hands-free computer mouse platform, won $3,000 for its third-place finish.
For Dr. Mike Bowers, director of the Center of Entrepreneurship, though, the competition is about much more than funding.
“The prize money is helpful, it’s useful, but the advice and counsel … can bring as much value, and sometimes more value, than the dollars,” he said, following the last of six presentations delivered virtually at this year’s Launch Your Venture.
In-kind services awarded include mentorship, business plan and account help, networking opportunities and more. The judges panel — comprised of Beckett Jackson, investing director for Boeing HorizonX Ventures; Brian Degenarro, vice president of sales and marketing for Unison Industries; Tony Mann, chairman and CEO of Signet LLC; Joe Hepburn, director of aftermarket products for Texton Aviation; and Sean Cummings, founder/vice president of Mokavia Aerospace — also conducted question-and-answer sessions following each presentation, offering advice on what aspects of each business plan could be improved.
“Embry-Riddle hosts this competition to shine a spotlight on the emerging aviation, aerospace, and engineering companies in Florida,” said Dr. Stephanie Miller, executive director of Technology Transfer and Research Park Initiatives. “Beyond the prizes, many of our competitors connect with our judges afterwards for feedback, mentorship and investment opportunities. And some of the teams end up in our MicaPlex Technology Business Incubator where we can help them grow and succeed in the long-term.”
Since the start of Launch Your Venture, $90,000 in prize money and over 120 hours of in-kind consultation services have been awarded. The first winner of Launch Your Venture, Sensatek Propulsion Technology, manufactures wireless, high-temperature sensors for harsh environments, such as the blades of a jet engine. Sensatek joined the MicaPlex incubator in 2017 and has since raised over $4.5 million in grant and equity-based funding, as well as established partnerships with major engine manufacturers across the world. Another competitor from Embry-Riddle, GRD Biomechanics, won first place in 2018. Their patented 3D-printed knee brace is manufactured and distributed from their headquarters in Daytona Beach, Florida. GRD was also an early member of the M