UALR Governor’s Cup team focuses on cancer detection

Following the Donald W. Reynolds Governor’s Cup business plan competition success from 2013, UALR looks to compete again with a fresh concept and an eager group of students.

The competition is drawing nearer with the submission date already passed and business plans due on February 21st. Semi-finalists and finalists will be announced March 5th, followed by oral presentations on March 18th.

The team is made up of six from several disciplines. The chief executive, Meri Calderon, studies International Business and is one of the Donaghey Scholars. Chief financial officer, Jarques Smith, is a Business major and has experience working with banks. Chief operating officer, Kolton Kulis, studies Management Information Systems and has participated in many projects in cooperation with Microsoft. Chief strategic alliance officer, Max Deaton, is the only post-baccalaureate student having graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor in History and Economics. Chief technology officer, Saad Azam, studies Chemistry and Biology and is also a UALR Donaghey Scholar. Lastly, the chief marketing and public relations officer is Carlos Sepulveda. Carlos is majoring in Economics and is a Donaghey Scholar.

The team gathered for the first time in August after having been recruited by Dr. Jane Wayland, Dean of the College of Business, to compete for a second state-wide win. Coming off the heels of the victorious Catch-22 team led by Richard Crane, a former Windstream exec, the new team had big shoes to fill.  “For me it was the first time developing a business plan. Setting up the system to work was a learning curve,” Sepulveda said.

What separates this team from last year’s is the diversity in disciplines. After losing points last year for having all business majors, it was a critical focus in seeking out members. “I’ve gotten to know what other disciplines are doing. Which is cool,” Sepulveda continues. Included in this interdisciplinary team is History and Economics major Max Deaton and Biology and Chemistry major Saad Azam. “We had to learn to work with each other. We all grew and learned a lot about cancer research,” said Sepulveda, having been a cancer patient himself during the summer of 2013.

After spending two months studying how to repurpose algae in fresh water systems using nanotechnology, the team acknowledged the unlikelihood of the product’s ability to perform in the competition. After setting up a meeting with Jeff Stinson, Director of UALR’s Center for Innovation and Commercialization, and Dr. Alexandru Biris, Director and Chief Scientist at the Center for Integrative Nanotechnology Sciences, the team was led to develop a business plan for a patent-pending innovation led by Dr. Biris that detects cancer cell growth from a blood test. “My personal background definitely drew me in,” Sepulveda said.

It’s shown that passion and real-life application can drive interest in academics. “That experience [with cancer] combined with this business plan competition has really shown me that healthcare management is for me,” said Sepulveda. Many students struggle to connect dots between the classroom and the workforce. Helping to bridge some of these gaps is a project like Governor’s Cup, he thinks. “I wish I had done Governor’s Cup before upper level classes. It gives you room to be yourself and make mistakes, which is probably one of the best parts.”

The million dollar question at these competitions has always focused on the likelihood of students starting a real business based on their plans. With a “vision for promoting entrepreneurship,” the Arkansas Capital Corporation Group saw this competition as an opportunity to show students the resources available in Arkansas for starting businesses. “There’s a potential to start it for sure,” Sepulveda and Deaton think. “Frank [faculty advisor] is pushing for it, but we’re looking to just get through the competition first.”

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