Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

UA teams advance to next round of start-up competition

Two budding companies from The University of Alabama will advance in a statewide business competition vying for awards totaling up to $100,000.

After pitching their company’s product to a panel of judges this past Monday in Birmingham, Ala., seven of 12 teams were chosen to advance to the next round of the competition, communications director Val Walton said.

Walton said the competition, called Alabama Launchpad, is a program within the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, an organization that represents the private sector of economic development in the state with 80 corporate partners.

Greg Sheek, director of Alabama Launchpad programs, said the competition started in 2006 and grew when Robert Witt and Jay Gogue, the then presidents of The University of Alabama and Auburn University respectively, saw an opportunity.

“They are a part of Governor Bentley’s economic development plan, Accelerate Alabama,” Sheek said. “They identified and are helping lead Alabama Launchpad as the state tool for commercializing and helping startups.”

Both Martin Bakker, associate professor of chemistry, and Franchessa Sayler, who recently completed her doctoral degree requirements on campus, led one of the UA teams, Thrupore Technologies LLC, a company that introduced a new catalyst for chemical manufacturers.

“In a nutshell, this is the work of Franchessa that she started as a graduate student,” Bakker said. “She is really focusing on sales at the moment, so that’s left me behind here to take care of things like production and pitch competitions.”

Bakker said as a scientist, the hardest part has been going out and turning their product into a company.

“Most scientists and engineers don’t have this skill set,” he said. “So Alabama Launchpad is taking small companies to the next step and actually making the business work.”

If awarded a portion of the $100,000 prize money, Bakker said they plan to use it for a combination of marketing strategies.

“We have theses small manufacturers we need to visit and some materials we need to test for data, and that’s what we asked for money for,” he said. “If we don’t get it, we will still find a way to do it. It will just definitely be harder.”

The other UA team, MagnnPro, offers an innovative MRI contrast agent with safer and more effective results. Yuping Bao, Reichhold-Shumaker assistant professor, is a part of the team.

“The existing MRI contrast agents are toxic to the body, and people with liver and kidney problems cannot use them,” Bao said. “The product we developed is going to have the safety and efficiency so all types of patients can use them.”

Bao said she and Thomas Macher, one of her graduate students, have been working on this product for almost two years and think they are ready to take it to the next level in order to put the product into the market.

“That’s why we entered this Alabama Launchpad competition,” she said. “This funding will help us fully develop this product and more importantly get our names out there so we can attract larger investors.”

Sheek said the competition could have several winners after the May 3 finale event, depending upon the amount of money each company asks for in their business plan.

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