The college has announced the winners of its third annual Venture Fund competition, awarding a total of $25,000 in investment capital to two innovative teams of students and young alumni.
The winners are: FluxTeq, a three-man team of mechanical engineers, including alumnus Chris Cirenza '13, that developed a low-cost heat flux sensor with broad industry application; and Intrsect Davidson, a new app and business idea developed by current students Bjorn Ordoubadian '16 and Shea Parikh '16. Flux Teq received $20,000 and Intrsect Davidson received $5,000.
"The money is just one piece of it," said Mark McDowell, executive chairman of Acta Consulting. He served as a judge for the competition. "In addition to the money, the students get to say they won the Venture Fund competition, which is a really strong credential to have. It means their ideas have been vetted by seasoned entrepreneurs who believe in their chances for success."
The Venture Fund is made possible through a 2013 gift from the Nisbet family. Each year the college calls for idea submissions from current students and young alumni (up to five years out), and selects finalists to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges. The judges may choose to award all $25,000 to one team, or to divide it among multiple teams.
The judges for the event were: College President Carol Quillen, Executive Chairman of Acta Consulting Mark McDowell, Managing Partner at Task Force X Capital Management Brandon Shelton, Silverpea Ventures Founder Phiderika Foust and Co-founder/Chief Technology Officer of Versame Chris Boggiano. Boggiano also serves as one of the college's two Entrepreneurs in Residence this year, with his brother, Jon.
"A team's thought process, to me, says a lot about the team," Boggiano said. In evaluating the finalists, he looks at the team members, the problem they are addressing, and whether he believes they are capable of solving that problem.
"From a venture standpoint, the bigger the problem, the more returns you'll see," Boggiano added. He identified this as a primary reason the judges liked FluxTeq. "The team is addressing a massive problem, they have a cool product, and now they need to build a business around it."
"FluxTeq really embodied what I look for in investing," McDowell said. "They identified a real need, yet in a market that hasn't had a lot of innovation. They also have the necessary expertise, knowledge and technical skills, and the product has wide applicability."
The FluxTeq team members, who met at Virginia Tech, specialize in the manufacture of inexpensive, robust heat flux sensors that have applications in energy efficient HVAC systems, thermal management and medical diagnostics, among others.
In the weeks leading up to pitch day, the finalists were matched with Davidson alumni and community mentors across various industries to get structured insights on their ideas and to further hone their pitch presentations. They received real-time feedback throughout the program, fielded questions from a panel of investors and entrepreneurs immediately following their presentations, and also received further written remarks to incorporate into any next iterations of their venture and pitches.
"Feedback is one of the most significant aspects of the Venture Fund process," Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Hannah Levinson said. "Mentors provide spaces wherein students and young alumni get to distill, synthesize and leverage strong–and sometimes critical–information. This aspect of the experience is truly transformative."
This year there were five finalist teams, with product ideas ranging from heat flux sensors to mobile and web applications to education technology platforms. More than a dozen alumni and community members served as mentors and committed to remaining available to the teams both during and after the competition.
"Our mentors gave us good insight about startups in general and also a lot of contacts and connections–the right kinds of contacts for what we need," Cirenza said.
"That's one of the best things you can do as a college–help your students reach out to people off campus who can work with them to help them succeed," McDowell said.
In addition to meeting with mentors, Venture Fund finalists met with Levinson and the Boggianos, either in person or via the web, and were required to participate in a series of webinars hosted by Jon Boggiano covering topics such as pitch preparation, business model canvas, and startup life/team structure.
For Ordoubadian and Parikh, their idea was incubated entirely on campus, beginning at Davidson's inaugural 3 Day Startup program in September and growing into the business they pitched to the Venture Fund judges.
"The whole process was eye opening and very practical," said Ordoubadian. "We saw how many things you need to think about to run a business or company, and developed a lot of skills with real-world applications."
To qualify for the money, Venture Fund applicants have to have for-profit business models, and have to be incorporated. They may choose to receive the money as either a convertible note or a warrant.
"The Venture Fund investment is different from a straightforward investment in a company; it is also a social initiative," McDowell said. "It may motivate more students and alumni with big ideas to think outside the box and consider entrepreneurship as a really viable path. And they can do so knowing the college supports them in this."