Last year, a group of students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock merged their talents and developed a business venture that has now received a substantial amount of recognition both in and outside of Arkansas.
On Wednesday, April 18, the students were awarded top honors – and $25,000 – in the undergraduate division of the Arkansas Governor’s Cup, a statewide business plan competition for college and graduate students sponsored by Arkansas Capital Corporation.
Team members include Nick Lester, Noah Asher, Kiauna Rome, and Ingrid Helgestad. Their device, Spiritum Solutions, is a mouth guard designed so that patients undergoing surgery or bronchoscope procedures do not damage their mouths by biting down on the tubes.
“It wasn’t just an undergraduate exercise for them. They are going to move forward with the business,” said Stuart McLendon, an adjunct professor and team sponsor for the College of Business team. “As a UA Little Rock alumnus, former judge for the competition, and now team sponsor, I can say that this is by far the best and most useful experience that any college student can obtain during the course of their education. It provides extremely valuable real-world expertise building a team, building a product, selling yourself and your ideas, and doing it in a collaborative way.”
In addition to the team’s win, McLendon received $2,000 as team sponsor, and Noah Asher received a $2,000 cash prize for winning the undergraduate elevator pitch competition.
The elevator pitch is a highlight activity of the awards luncheon during which one representative from each of the finalist teams has 90 seconds to pitch his or her team’s business plan to the audience members, who vote via text to determine the winner.
“He knocked it out of the park,” McLendon said of Asher’s pitch.
Recently, this group of students have been no strangers to winning. After pitching Spiritum Solutions during Texas Christian University’s Values and Ventures competition, the students received honorable mention and were awarded $2,500. They were selected as one of six finalists among 55 competing teams.
“This team was truly stellar,” said Elaine Cole, public relations manager at Texas Christian University. “I enjoyed meeting them and watching their presentation.”
Last fall, the students also participated in the Arkansas Regional Innovation Hub’s Delta I-Fund program, an early stage proof-of-concept fund created to capitalize and train up-and-coming entrepreneurs. The 12-week program provided mentorship to the young business minds and helped them to develop and validate their ideas.
After going through three stages of pitching for investment funding, the students raised $50,000 from the I-Fund program. They also received a $25,000 Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Science Foundation.
Thanks to the numerous financial awards, the students can now move forward with prototype and design iterations, FDA consulting, paying legal and patenting fees, and continuing research.
The team will continue this momentum, competing May 7 in Memphis in an accelerator competition focused on healthcare technology.