APRIL 29, 2021 — If at first you don’t succeed, try again. That was the motto for many promising entrepreneurs and the strategy of the winning team used at UTSA’s $100K Student Technology Venture Competition this spring. The event, better known as Tech Venture, showcases the work of talented UTSA student entrepreneurs each fall and spring semesters, and is hosted by the university’s Center for Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship (CITE).
Tech Venture gives students valuable hands-on experience in what it takes to make it in the startup business world. Students from different disciplinary backgrounds work together to design and develop a product to take to market. The teams are typically made up of senior engineering, computer science or liberal arts students, and senior business students create the business plans. The process takes months from start to finish. During that time, the team executes market research, develops a protype, tests it, and prepares a pitch on why their product will make a profit.
The competition requires dedication and the teams had to overcome some challenges because of the pandemic, such as not being able to work together in person. They instead mastered the art of Zoom collaboration. When restrictions began to ease, students started working together in a lab or other space to move their concept along. Then the great winter storm of 2021 hit, shutting down campus for more than a week during a critical period prior to the competition date when Tech Venture lab students needed to finalize their projects.
“We started with 11 teams but after the storms hit, we were left with six teams comprising of about 25 students. The students were to prepare a prototype and have a proof-of-concept but kind of ran out of time,” said Gianluca Zanella, associate research scientist and CITE coordinator. “The six teams remaining were amazing. I don’t know how they did it. Maybe they worked overnights, and they persevered.”
The finalist teams were: C.A.G.E. Biotech, Consilio Prosthesium, Dress Up, JACS, MECM Medical, and Tranquility Therapeutics. On April 23, they virtually pitched their ideas to a panel of academic, business and entrepreneurial experts. The panel selected Tranquility Therapeutics as the winner for its Triple P Relief device.
Team Tranquility Therapeutics consists of UTSA students Amanda Gomez, Kennedy Howland, Devanshi Patel and Marijose Sanchez. They had previously presented their product at the Fall 2020 Big Rowdy competition. They took lessons learned from that experience to improve their product and business plan. Triple P Relief is a breathing channel designed to help overcome hyper-ventilation during a panic attack.
“Ever since I started at UTSA in the engineering program, I was looking forward to my senior year and participating in this competition,” said Patel, a biomedical engineer major. “It’s unbelievable. As senior design students, we work almost the entire year developing a product, so to get funding and guidance to start a company is pretty awesome.”
Tranquility Therapeutics now has access to $100,000 in prize pool funding and services to launch their new company. One of their first steps will be to utilize UTSA’s Office of Commercialization and Innovation to file a patent. While that’s being done, Tranquility Therapeutics will continue refining their prototype and leverage their Tech Venture win to attract venture capitalist funding.
Tech Venture is just one of the many opportunities provided to UTSA students under the Office for Student Innovation & Entrepreneurship (SIE) led by executive director Randy Quinn. Students have access to research and develop products through the CITE Innovation Lab. SIE also connects students through a collection of university and community partners. Legal forms essential for any startup business are available as well. UTSA is also partnering with the Blackstone Launchpad & Techstars Network, committed to making entrepreneurship accessible and relevant for all college students.“I see UTSA as a keystone player for the future of San Antonio. We have capabilities at the university we can apply to develop our future business leaders,” Quinn said. “A large part of what we do through Tech Venture is help our students make connections in San Antonio and beyond to help make their ideas a reality. This creates an exciting hub for startups in this community.”
This is the 12th consecutive year of Tech Venture competitions. Several UTSA students are still in business with ideas presented at previous events. As the CITE coordinator, Zanella takes pride in how so many of the program’s budding entrepreneurs represent UTSA in the community.
“To see these young, bright minds come up with great ideas to enter the entrepreneurial world, that’s the icing on the cake for me,” Zanella said. “I'm not only providing a framework for a competition, but feel like I'm part of the first stage of a promising career and that is very satisfying.”
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