University of Arkansas Teams Win 8 of 10 Governor's Cup Awards

by Mark Carter  on Wednesday, Apr. 9, 2014 3:39 pm  

Lumadrop is interviewed after the 2014 Donald W. Reynolds Governor's Cup awards ceremony at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock. (Photo by Mark Carter)

Teams from the University of Arkansas won eight of the 10 awards presented Wednesday at the 2014 Donald W. Reynolds Governor's Cup collegiate business plan competition in downtown Little Rock.

Billed as the "state championship," the Governor's Cup represents the state's top business plan event for college students. Awards were presented at a Statehouse Convention Center luncheon that included Gov. Mike Beebe.

Teams from the UA won the top three places in the competition's graduate division. UA teams also won both the graduate and undergraduate pitch awards as well as the graduate and undergraduate innovation awards.

Teams from John Brown University of Siloam Springs took first and third places in the overall undergrad category, and the UA took second.

The results in each of the categories:

Overall graduate

  1. Lumadrop, UA (team members Brad Phelan, Neil Bora, Randy Cabrera and Joe Huff): A patent-approved eye drop in preclinical stages of testing that could replace injections made directly into the eye for macular degeneration patients.
  2. Datavis, UA (Juston Urso, Jason Kohrig and Michael Finan): Image-recognition inventory management software.
  3. HemaNotics, UA (Scott Andrews, Andrew Boehm and Jackie Frentz): A dosage accuracy system for doctors subscribing the prescription anti-coagulant drug Coumadin.

Overall undergraduate

  1. Arleesa, JBU (Andrea Good, Jeremy Enders, Chase Skelton and Jake Wilson): Custom-made, personalized dolls.
  2. BioBotics, UA (Michael Iseman, Kelley Coakley and Hendrix College student Rachel Zweig): Front-end automation for pathology labs based on UAMS technology.
  3. Funding Fathers, JBU (Christopher Hembree, Jacob Moore and Timothy Luff): An alternative form of financing for small-business startups through crowdfunding.

Pitch awards, determined through audience text-message voting, were won by BioBotics in the undergrad category and Datavis in the graduate category. The two teams also won awards for innovation.

A Sample of Today's Business Plan Pitches

Overall first-place finishers took home a cash prize of $25,000. Second-place finishers won $15,000 and third place recipients won $10,000. The total prize pool for winners was $154,000.

The top two teams in both divisions will compete in the Tri-State Governor's Cup competition held in Las Vegas. The event pits top winners from Arkansas against winners at similar competitions in Oklahoma and Nevada. Tri-State, where Arkansas teams historically have fared well, is scheduled for May 22-23 from the Mirage Hotel.

C. Sam Walls Award

For the first time this year, the event included the C. Sam Walls Entrepreneur Educator Award from Arkansas Capital Corporation. The inaugural winners were faculty advisors Carol Reeves of the UA's Walton Business College and Allen Frazier of Harding University in Searcy. Each winner took home a cash prize of $2,500 plus another $2,500 for their respective schools.

Arkansas Capital Corporation hosts the Governor's Cup, which it founded in 2001 under the leadership of former CEO Sam Walls, who retired last year. The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation has been name sponsor for the event since 2004. 

Big Plans

Business plan teams from the UA have a history not only of competing well in national and international competitions, but of going on to real-world success. Reeves, whose daughter Rachel Zweig of Hendrix College in Conway is a member of the BioBotics team, believes the UA teams stand a good chance of succeeding in Las Vegas. She noted that Datavis could see revenue in the next few months.

For Neil Bora, a third-year UA law student and CEO of Lumadrop, his startup venture hits close to home. The technology behind Lumadrop comes from his parents, UA researchers Nalini and Puran Bora. Bora said his mom Nalini told him in 2011 about the prospects of replacing injections made directly into the eye with drops. 

Bora said there are many potential competitors to LumaDrop, but he believes LumaDrop will be not only a better product but first to market.

"We'll try and continue to raise funding and further develop the drug," he said. "We're finishing pre-clinicals and then hope to submit it to the FDA next year."


Following the awards luncheon, many of the Governor's Cup participants walked across the street to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce to participate in an entrepreneurial panel discussion hosted by the Arkansas Venture Center.

The founders of three Little Rock-based tech startups -- Matt Price of Bourbon & Boots, Tim Miller of Sumotext and Keith Hoelzeman of Treatsie -- offered their advice to the prospective entrepreneurs. 

Each acknowledged access to capital and the relative lack of technical talent as hardships to starting up in Arkansas, but also noted how the startup ecosystem in the state over the past decade has changed dramatically.

"In terms of the startup environment, we'd have been better off in another city," said Miller, who launched the mobile messaging service in 2007. "But now so many things have changed. There are so many examples of people and organizations fostering entrepreneurship and support for it."

Price told Governor's Cup participants that the central Arkansas startup environment is "completely different" from when he launched his first startup, Capsearch, in 2008.

"It's gotten drastically, exponentially better the last five, six years," he said. "The tech talent pool is not as deep as other cities, and the tech community is just now starting to develop density, but it's trending very much in the right dirtection."

Hoelzeman advised the student entrepreneurs to determine if there was a market for their products before launching into funding mode. Treatsie, an online artisan candy marketplace, used crowdsourcing platform Kickstarter to raise awareness and generate feedback before seeking other outside funding.

This year, 36 teams from 13 colleges and universities across the state submitted plans for the Governor's Cup. Finalists and semifinalists represented the UA, JBU, Harding, Henderson State University, Arkansas State University, Arkansas Tech University, Hendrix College, Arkansas Baptist College, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Ouachita Baptist University. 



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