Entrepreneurialism is alive and well at UCSB where the Technology Management Program (TMP) announced its New Venture Competition winners on May 9. Taking the grand prize of $10,000 was aPeel Technology which invented a spray-on formula that keeps fruit from rotting. This year’s contest marks the program’s 13th annual competition and continues the College of Engineering’s tradition of integrating entrepreneurship into the major.
The competition projects were developed over a four-month process beginning in January with the aid of university advisers, local entrepreneurs, and business owners all of whom have experience in product management, marketing, and financing. These advisers conducted weekly lectures to help contest participants develop their executive summary, identify potential markets and prepare their presentations.
On April 19, the six finalist projects, selected from forty six competing teams, pitched their ideas to a panel of business, technology and finance experts who evaluated the them based on each team’s innovation, business model, and potential for profit among other criteria.
The competition itself is split into two different categories: Tech Push and Market Pull. According to TMP Director Mike Panesis, Tech Push projects tend to be more engineering-oriented whereas Market Push emphasizes ventures that have identified an existing market need and have adapted or developed technology accordingly.
aPeel won the Tech Push category and a venture called Birdeez won Market Pull.
Birdeez, a smart phone social networking application, has become popular already with bird watchers who can use the app to identify and report sightings. Birdeez project members are working to secure funding to further their venture.
For their project, aPEEL Technology developed a fruit coating formula, “ediPEEL,” that, when sprayed on produce, maintains freshness by preventing water loss and oxidation. According to aPEEL team member James Rogers, the idea for produce preservation was one of the many business ideas he had for the competition, but the potential applications for this particular invention sparked the interest of others in his PhD program at UCSB.
“I’m a PhD [student] in the Materials Department, so I felt that I had some expertise and training for this business venture. Plus, I was able to work from home and develop the formula using strawberries and sliced apples. Because sliced apples get brown as they oxidize and lose their freshness, they were a great test subject.”
Rogers also submitted a proposal to the Melinda and Bill Gates Foundation in the hopes that aPEEL could be used to help people in certain impoverished countries.
“Being able to eliminate the perishable aspect of fresh produce could be applied to third world countries where they don’t have access to refrigeration. Ideally, we would want our project to have a humanitarian aspect.”
Currently, aPEEL team members are applying for patents in the hopes of continuing their business venture and ultimately, attracting more investors.
According to TMP Advisor and Lecturer Kyle Ashby, the students’ enthusiasm and perseverance in both developing and continuing their ventures was bittersweet, since the majority of contestants did not move on.
“We got some really great feedback from students who weren’t moving forward in the competition, many of whom wanted to keep going with their idea,” Ashby said. “So, in the future, we might look into how to keep more students involved all the way to the end.”