Just outside the entrance to the University of Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) Convocation Center, UTSA mechanical engineering students Caleb Lansdale, Kris Carlton, Yannis Routsas, and Marcus Haraway stood next to a truck explaining their innovation to Alamo Angels director Chris Burney.
The team of student mechanical engineers devised a vehicle-mounted electric winch with a universal design that can be used with any vehicle. Their patented winch spools the line cleanly onto the drum every single time, preventing costly cable tangles that are the leading cause of expensive winch motor failure.
Undergraduate students pitched their innovative prototypes to business leaders for a chance to start their own companies Tuesday at the annual UTSA Center for Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship (CITE) $100,000 Student Technology Venture Competition. The Winch-Men team was one of the five finalists out of 19 teams that initially applied. The finalists presented products that ranged from health technology applications and medical devices to the winning commercial winch that improves on the current engineering.
VertiPro, an augmented reality (AR) app that helps those suffering from certain vestibular disorders that trigger chronic dizziness won second place. GANA Biomedical Solutions came in third place for their medical knee flexing device that connects to the internet to track patient rehab exercise, enabling users to perform knee rehab at home.
The two remaining teams proposed a medical device and a health tech app, respectively. The Aestus team created a blanket that regulates the body temperature of trauma patients to improve their outcomes as they are transported to the hospital. Santine Software is an AR-enhanced app designed for patients to perform hand and wrist rehabilitation exercises at home rather than at the rehab center.
CITE is an interdisciplinary center founded in 2006 to create a pipeline for UTSA faculty and students to develop new technology ventures for commercialization in San Antonio. CITE combines its annual event with UTSA’s College of Engineering’s Tech Symposium, a showcase for student engineering projects.
“The engineers spend their senior year on developing the prototype, working with business majors to refine the startup’s concept and pitch,” CITE coordinator Diego Capeletti said. “They must have a working prototype.”
The combined pool of prizes (cash awards and in-kind services) comes to more than $100,000, with perks such as free office space, incubation services, membership in Geekdom, and legal services in addition to investment. The first place winner receives $5,000 cash plus a $5,000 convertible note from the Targeted Technology Fund. The second place team is awarded $1,500 in cash while third place gets $1,000.
“Some teams are motivated to work on health care challenges, and others address challenges that help many small businesses in San Antonio,” said Dr. Teja Guda, CITE interim director. “The students are grounded in their approaches, developing prototypes that have solid practical applications.”
CITE acts as an avenue for undergraduate students to connect with business mentors in the community. Since the competition’s inception, over 1,200 students have participated in the annual pitch competition, Guda said. Budding entrepreneurs from CITE and the College of Engineering develop ideas for pitching a viable product that demonstrates both the engineering students’ proof of concept and the business model. Winners have the option to commercialize their concept through UTSA’s Department of Commercialization and Innovation.
CITE partners with VelocityTX, the Targeted Technology Fund, the 80/20 Foundation, San Antonio Economic Development Corporation, Geekdom, the law firm of Strasburger and Price, the San Antonio Technology Center, The Whittington Group, and San Antonio Tech Boosters who provide the mentors for the students.
CITE is one of several university programs in San Antonio that encourages student entrepreneurship.
UTSA is building a new $95 million home for STEM or science, technology, engineering and mathematics on its main campus to encourage STEM entrepreneurship, according to Guda. CITE will move to the new 175,000-square-foot science and technology building once it is completed sometime in 2020. CITE’s move to the new building is intended to encourage more collaboration with the College of Engineering, which will also be housed in the new facility.
“Our innovation lab will move into the new building,” Guda said. “The bigger building will allow the teams to build large-scale prototypes, with students from both programs sharing the large maker space.”
The Winch-Men team will use their cash prize and convertible note for their company website and to fund their marketing strategy for displaying their patented winch at trade shows. Their targeted consumers include the farm and ranching community, sports and off-roading fans, those in hunting and fishing, and the U.S. Department of Defense.
“We checked with three shops in San Antonio that each sell 200 winches per month,” Marcus Haraway said. “We aim to sell 300 winches within two years and up to 800 by year three.”
UTSA’s CITE program and College of Engineering strive to build the next generation of STEM startup founders in San Antonio.
“It’s a great opportunity for students with entrepreneurial spirit to help them take their innovative ideas through the first steps of commercialization,” UTSA academic advisor Mark Robinson said.
Featured image is of the Winch-Men team standing next to their innovative winch, which won the first prize at the 2018 UTSA CITE Competition. From left to right are Yannis Routsas, Kris Carlton, and Marcus Haraway (not pictured is Caleb Lansdale). Photo credit: Iris Gonzalez