Eager nervous students, angel investors, and representatives from top VC firms crowded into a campus conference room at Stanford University on Friday to hear pitches in the annual startup competition organized by the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES). In fields from biotech to e-commerce, novice and serial entrepreneurs — medical doctors, computer science students, and MBAs — presented their ideas in the hopes of scoring some of the $150,000 prize money on offer in three entrepreneurial tracks: social, general, and product-focused. After closed-door judging by a mix of VC and industry representatives, startups in the medical device (Awair) and non-profit patient education fields (Anjna) emerged victorious; the winners are described below.
The showcase for the product track packed an auditorium with 50 next-big-thing prototypes, apps, and inventions. Offerings included geolocation apps, hotel and travel services, sanitation and energy products targeted at the developing world, assistive technologies, and big data approaches to property search, programming, and human resources. More than a few of the teams looked a bit sleep-deprived, telling me they had cobbled together their platforms in a few days or weeks. Besides the Bluetooth pepper spray device (Deimos Defense) we hope we will never need, here are a few startups that stood out from the crowd.
Dragonfly Systems has patent pending tech to boost the output of solar panels. Instead of the weakest panel in a linked installation bringing all the others down, Dragonfly’s module reroutes the energy that would otherwise be lost as heat back to the grid. Each of their modules costs about $9, and Dragonfly said it brings the best of a costly parallel circuit system into the standard serial way that panels are linked. Their tech recently earned them third place in the Department of Energy FLOW clean business challenge.
Cloudfridge, from a company called Visible Energy, does what the name implies: in place of the traditional thermostat, it takes refrigeration to the cloud. A large fraction of commercial energy use goes towards refrigeration (think walk-in meat lockers). Cloudfridge uses Wi-Fi and sensors to optimize commercial-grade cooling, and has just been awarded a grant by the California Energy Commission.
One of the developers of this mine-sniffing tech is a native of Sri Lanka who was inspired to name his company after a poem by Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore. Red Lotus Technologies brings the beeping handheld metal detector into the digital age by visualizing buried hazards on a tablet. This visual feedback method could also improve training for human mine detectors. Red Lotus’ tech is being trialed by the Department of Defense later this year.
The winner of the product showcase challenge was Alice, construction engineering software supercharged with artificial intelligence. In a matter of seconds, Alice churns out project management schedules optimized by equipment, manpower, and materials availability, to enable construction projects to proceed efficiently and on-time. Alice’s assembly-line-for-buildings tech earned its team $20,000 (below).
Awair won the $25,000 general entrepreneurial challenge with its patient ventilation system. The gag-inducing tubes used in intensive care units to deliver air are often accompanied by heavy sedation. Awair uses topical nerve numbing so reduced or no sedation is needed, leading to improved patient comfort and faster healing times.
Anjna is a non-profit that harnesses the natural proclivity for texting in its low-income target demographic. Their system automates appointment and medical reminders via text, and also delivers tailored medical content. Anjna took home the grand prize of $25,000 in the social entrepreneurial track.