Annual Innovation Challenge Draws Students to Pitch Ideas for Commercialization

The winning team was from Stetson University

The Cairns Foundation held its second Innovation Challenge on April 12th at the UCF Business Incubator – Daytona Beach International Airport. The challenge allowed student teams from local colleges and universities to pitch creative ideas with market potential.

This year, the winning team, who won a $10,000 cash prize donated by the Cairns Foundation was from Stetson University. The team will also receive a full year of free business mentoring services and office space at the Daytona Beach incubator.

The half-day invitation-only event, attracted about 80 spectators, who had the opportunity to hear from the eight teams as they competed in the event. The panel of judges included Jim Cairns, executive director of the Cairns Foundation; Rick Fraser; executive director of the Ormond Beach Chamber of Commerce; inventor/entrepreneur Richard Madden and Connie Bernal, site manager for the Daytona Beach incubator.

“One of the purposes of the innovation challenge is to get inventions or new technologies to market and to help students become the next $10 million company in Volusia County,” Bernal said. “What I saw (at the competition) was amazing.”

TSOLife, LLC comprised of Stetson students David Sawyer and Emma Campbell, and their faculty adviser, Tara Batista – was the first place winner of the competition. TSOLife provides an online platform where users can securely and permanently document their life stories. For a one-time fee the company can securely host and store the information.

“Winning the competition was a pretty big deal. For the Cairns Foundation to believe in my idea [as a student] and give me capital to help launch my business is just a phenomenal opportunity,” says Sawyer.

Sawyer developed the concept for TSOLife last year while attending the funeral for one of his grandmothers. “The lightbulb moment for me came when I was hearing stories about my grandmother’s life and realized my grandkids would never get to hear those stories,” he said.

The Stetson senior, who is majoring in finance and entrepreneurship, conducted the feasibility research for his proposed venture, while enlisting the help of Campbell, a junior at Stetson who is majoring in family enterprise and business systems and analytics.

The Stetson students teamed up to form TSOLife, where Campbell serves as the company’s president and Sawyer is the CEO. The students who raised $60,000 in seed money from family and friends, plans to launch an Internet portal later.

In addition to being the faculty adviser for TSOLife, Batista, a Stetson professor, also serves as the faculty sponsor of Enactus, a national organization that promotes social enterprises.

Another team from Stetson, Xeres, took second place in the competition. Xeres is a general-purpose reservation system that can be adapted to the needs of any business or university. Designed for ease of use, scalability and customization, the system allows users to change how and what they are reserving, and add or remove features as they see fit.

The Xeres team includes students: Christian Micklisch, John Salis and Nathan Hilliard and a trio of professors, Becky and Gary Oliphant and Daniel Plante. The team will share a $5,000 cash prize, donated by the Hunter Foundation, and is also eligible to receive complimentary consulting from incubator staff.

According to Bernal, “The hope is to encourage people with innovative ideas to form successful companies that can lead to the creation of jobs for others. That’s the whole point of this annual competition.”

The event included an update on last year’s winner AquaSolve Ventures LLC from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. The startup, which is now a client of the Daytona Beach incubator, has developed a portable water purification system designed for disaster relief, military use, and outdoor activities.

In addition to a third Stetson tea, other participants in this year’s challenge included teams from Daytona State College and Embry-Riddle.