Entrepreneurial ventures

Community experts select co-winners of UD Idea Pitch

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2:08 p.m., Nov. 9, 2011--What do a food truck and a novel cancer therapy have in common? Both took home winning honors in the inaugural semi-annual UD Idea Pitch competition, sponsored by the University of Delaware’s Venture Development Center (VDC), on Friday, Nov. 4.

Leigh Ann Tona, a senior management major with minors in entrepreneurial studies and international business, pitched her winning “I Don’t Give a Fork” business venture, which aims to serve delicious, made-to-order sandwiches and snacks to students, faculty and community members who currently have few desirable alternatives on UD’s south campus in Newark.

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“A few of my friends and I work at the UDairy Creamery and we’d often complain about the lack of other good options to get food down at south campus without having to drive or order delivery,” said Tona. “That’s how I got the idea for my venture and talking to the judges validated that my food truck business idea is feasible.”

Vinu Krishnan, a doctoral candidate in materials science and engineering, pitched his team’s winning “Tag & Target Therapeutic Delivery – T3D: Oncology” venture, which aims to commercialize an innovative cancer therapy.

He said the idea spun off of a graduate course, “High Technology Entrepreneurship,” offered jointly by the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and the College of Engineering.

“I lead a team of six students pursuing MBA and engineering degrees and we were given access to an innovation for a novel cancer therapy which we coined T3D,” said Krishnan. “T3D aims to commercialize a novel nanoparticle-mediated therapeutic delivery system that involves tagging dividing cells in any part of the body so they can be targeted by therapeutic agents with enhanced specificity and increased bioavailability.”

According to Krishnan, the T3D technology was created by Ulhas Naik, professor of biological sciences and director of the Delaware Cardiovascular Research Center, and Peter Millili, a former graduate student in the Department of Chemical Engineering. The team has also received guidance from Scott Jones, professor of accounting and former director of the VDC; Keith Goossen, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering; and John Rabolt, the Karl W. and Renate Böer Professor of Materials Science.

Tona and Krishnan were just two out of 16 who pitched their ideas to the judging panel of Lee Mikles and Mark Thompson, two seasoned entrepreneurs, and Charles Brogan, Velda Jones-Potter and Tim McIntosh, community members with venture capital and angel funding backgrounds.

The judges scored the pitches using a scale from 0 to 10, and then added the scores to determine the winners. Only one point separated the top five ideas, with Tona’s and Krishnan’s ventures tying for the top spot.

“The quantity and quality of the ideas pitched by our students was impressive,” said Dan Freeman, faculty director of the Entrepreneurial Studies Program. “In addition to the co-winners, students pitched ideas for innovative clothing lines, battery materials, bicycle rental services, voice-based social networking, angel investment networks, tunable orthotics, graphite stampers, movie ticket discounting services, foreign language acquisition products, foreign student acclimation services, new print media, custom guitar cases and event planning services.”

Tona and Krishnan will each receive admission into the VDC and $1,000 to help them develop their ideas into viable businesses.

As for the future, the co-winners have big plans. Tona hopes to have “I Don’t Give a Fork” up and running by May or June and Krishnan said his team plans to take the venture forward one step at a time.

“We want to develop a solid business plan to commercialize T3D in consultation with the faculty and by utilizing resources at the VDC,” said Krishnan. “We are keen on initiating and completing T3D's pre-clinical trials as fast as possible since it can potentially benefit millions of people who are going to be affected by cancer in the coming decades.

For information about future UD Idea Pitch events and Hen Hatch, the Entrepreneurial Studies Program’s premier venture funding competition, visit: www.udel.edu/e-studies.

Article by Kathryn Meier

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