RICHMOND — A team of biomedical engineering students from the University of Virginia claims it has a better method to collect blood samples in hospitals.
The team made a pitch for their company, ProVazo, which is developing a new, more comfortable method for people whose blood needs to be drawn during hospitalization.
ProVazo won first place and a $10,000 grand prize in the inaugural Governor's Business Plan Challenge, held Thursday in Richmond's Capitol Square.
The UVa group — fourth-years Timothy Higgins, Andrew Andreae and Jessica Ungerleider — has filed for a preliminary patent and will work at the Darden School of Business's incubator this summer. The incubator provides an additional $8,000 in funding, Ungerleider said.
ProVazo also has a Richmond connection: Evan Edwards, the founder of Intelliject, recently became an advisor to ProVazo and regularly meets with the founders.
The team also was invited to work in Capital One Financial Corp.'s northern Virginia innovation lab by Jack Forestell, the head of digital enterprises for Capital One. ProVazo plans to spend the summer refining the technology and working on approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
"We hope to have enough money for all of us to be full-time on this by the fall and to take the idea to investors," Ungerleider said.
During a lunchtime panel about finding investment capital, Letitia Green of the Virginia Active Angel Network said business plan competitions can be a great source of early money for startups. She said businesses can often pile up $25,000 to $50,000 — enough to get the company off the ground — by winning several events.
Dan Mindes, the investment director of CIT GAP Funds, manages several million dollars a year of state money invested in startups. The fund is managed by the Center for Innovative Technology in northern Virginia.
Mindes and other panelists said investors don't often read long business plans prepared by startups.
"But just because we won't read your business plan doesn't mean you shouldn't write them," he said. "They can be useful in helping you identify weak points and make sure the cofounders are all on the same page."
Students from Christopher Newport University pitched SoundSense, a system that uses wireless technology and cell phones to alert hearing-impaired individuals when sounds are made by things like doorbells, fire alarms and cell phones.
Their business idea took the runners-up prize of $2,500 in cash and services from Richmond-based law firm Williams Mullen.
Andy McGregor said he started working to develop the idea with Edward Pekalski and Ethan Emanuele after watching the challenges faced by his parents, both of whom are deaf.
When the wireless receiver hears a noise it recognizes, from a phone's ringtone to a microwave timer, it can cause lights to flicker, alerting the person who is deaf. McGregor said the system can be customized, so that the doorbell triggers three flickers of the light, while the cell phone causes a lamp to flicker until the call is answered.
Other finalists included Virginia Commonwealth University's team, Free Mobility, which recently won the daVinvi Center for Innovation's Venture Creation Competition. The team designed a $1,500 "Z Walker" designed to help users climb and descend stairs. The team hopes future versions also will function as a wheelchair.
The fourth finalist was Symplevity, a website designed to help college students find off-campus housing. Todd Saunders and Hank Cantore of the College of William and Mary developed the product and have taken it through a beta test on campus. They plan to expand it to eight other schools in Virginia by August.