Innovation Hub awards UA Little Rock team $25,000 in funding

The UA Little Rock team behind IntelliNexus consists of Sachin Sharma (left), a Ph.D candidate in systems engineering, Dr. Seshadri Mohan (middle), professor of systems engineering,and Muhammad Baig Awan (right), who earned his doctorate in systems engineering in December 2016.

A University of Arkansas at Little Rock systems engineering team received $25,000 in funding through the the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub Delta I-Fund program for its start-up company, IntelliNexus, to create a high-tech social networking solution for cars.

Delta I-Fund is an early stage, proof-of-concept fund formed to capitalize and train university startups. The goal, according to the Innovation Hub’s website, is for the startups to eventually become successful businesses that bring jobs to the region.

The UA Little Rock team consists of Dr. Seshadri Mohan, professor of systems engineering, Sachin Sharma, a Ph.D candidate in systems engineering, and Muhammad Baig Awan, who earned his doctorate in systems engineering in December 2016.

The program provides up to $50,000 in funding through three stages. In September 2016, IntelliNexus was selected as one of eight teams to receive an initial investment of $5,000. IntelliNexus is the first of the cohort to received the third and final round of funding through the Delta I-Fund program.

“The objective is to approach potential customers and stakeholders in the country, to interview  them, and validate the business model,” Mohan said. “In talking to the potential customers or stakeholders, we polish our business model so we can be more successful if we launched the company.”

IntelliNexus is developing technology that creates a network in both autonomous and driver-controlled vehicles. Its technology, SAVANT (SmArt Vehicles Adhoc Network Technology), is a high-tech social networking solution for cars. The key to SAVANT is that it will directly connect vehicles to other vehicles in the vicinity, rather than relying on cellular networks that can have connectivity problems.

This can ensure cars remain connected when they come across stretches of road that don’t have cellular towers. It also means that drivers within the network can share information with other drivers, such as driving directions, playlists, photos, videos, and traffic updates, including any crashes they might encounter.  

“Imagine you are driving on Interstate 630 and there is an accident down the road. If these vehicles are connected through SAVANT, they can exchange information,” Mohan said. “The vehicles near the accident site can share the information with other vehicles as they happen in real time, so drivers can look for alternative routes.”

The cars will be connected via cognitive radio, an adaptive radio and network technology that detects available channels in a wireless spectrum and changes transmission parameters to allow more communications to run in a given spectrum at the same time.

“It mostly relies on unlicensed bandwidths that are free and unused, those that are not licensed by the FCC,” Awan said.

By Dec. 3, the team received the second stage of funding for $20,000 to continue interviews to revise its business model and search for investors. The team has now interviewed more than 60 organizations — from insurance companies and law enforcement agencies to telecommunication businesses and automobile companies. It has conducted interviews with AT&T, Amazon, General Motors, Nokia, Nissan, Google, and Uber.

IntelliNexus presented the findings of its commercial research and received the final round of funding, $25,000, on March 24.

“Throughout the program, the team applied themselves diligently and learned as much as they possibly could about the commercial applications of their patented technology. They did this by conducting over 60 interviews with potential customers and through mentorship from the I-Fund teachers and mentors,” said Jeff Stinson, director of entrepreneurship for the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub.

The three entrepreneurs plan to use the rest of their funding to begin prototyping SAVANT and to look for more investors. They estimate that it will take $300,000 to $500,000 and one or two years to build an initial working prototype of their device.

The team also plans to eventually hire UA Little Rock students with expertise in computer science and electrical and computer engineering and to create additional entrepreneurial opportunities for students at the university.

The next Delta I-Fund program begins in September. Anyone looking to be a part of the next cohort should visit www.deltaifund.com.

In the upper right photo, the UA Little Rock team behind IntelliNexus consists of Sachin Sharma (left), Dr. Seshadri Mohan (middle), and Muhammad Baig Awan (right).

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