Collegiate Entrepreneurs Earn Renown

by Mark Carter  on Monday, Jul. 9, 2012 12:00 am  

Being from Arkansas carries a certain degree of swagger in some fields - retail, poultry, rice and trucking, for example.

Perhaps it's time to consider adding collegiate business plan teams to that roster. The young entrepreneurs who make up these teams, most of them from the University of Arkansas, are helping create a strong entrepreneurial brand for the state. For the past several years, Arkansas students have continued to fare well at national competitions and, more importantly, in the real business world.

Several appear to be headed toward "big exits" - selling out to big corporations for big money or perhaps even launching an IPO.

The most recent business plan teams from Arkansas that have been successful in competitions and appear on track to substantial business success include Agricultural Food Systems, a John Brown University startup that has licensed UA technology to create an automated way to gauge the tenderness of beef coming off the processing plant line, and CycleWood Solutions, a UA startup that has licensed University of Minnesota technology to develop a shopping bag that biodegrades in the presence of bacteria in the soil.

Also on track for post-competition business success are the top three graduate-level winners at the 2012 Donald W. Reynolds Arkansas Governor's Cup: UA startups Boston Mountain Biotech, which developed a method that makes it much cheaper to bring protein-based pharmaceuticals to market; SpatiaLink Solutions, which created software that helps retailers manage their shelf-space productivity; and Learning DifferentiatED, which developed innovative GED-preparation software.

All the UA teams are mentored by Carol Reeves, an entrepreneurship professor in the Walton College of Business who has become a celebrity in her field. These teams continue a string of successful Arkansas teams led most notably by BiologicsMD, which has developed a new treatment for osteoporosis, and Silicon Solar Solutions, which produces polysilicon solar cells. Both firms, UA startups headquartered in Fayetteville, are about to begin manufacturing their products.

In 2010, BiologicsMD won both the prestigious Rice University Business Plan Competition and the "Super Bowl" of collegiate competitions, Moot Corp (now officially named the Venture Labs Investment Competition) at the University of Texas at Austin. One of the rewards for winning each event included closing the Nasdaq. That same year, Silicon Solar took third at Moot Corp and won several competitions, including the Stuart Clark Venture Challenge at the University of Manitoba, for which it got to ring the Nasdaq bell.

The success of UA teams during the past several years has landed Reeves and the entrepreneurship program at the UA national recognition. Reeves last year was included in the Fortune list of the top 10 most powerful women entrepreneurs. Her reputation was bolstered by the acceptance of three UA teams - SpatiaLink, Boston Mountain and Learning DifferentiatED - into 2012 Moot Corp. Each team won a qualifying competition to earn a spot in the field.

Having three teams from the same school making the international field of 36 was a feat never before accomplished in the event's 29-year history.

The 36-team field included teams from some of the United States' most prestigious universities - MIT, Johns Hopkins, the University of Chicago - as well as countries spanning the globe.

Yet three of 36 hailed from Fayetteville.

"That is a noteworthy accomplishment," Reeves understated.

 

 

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