Alan Ni of SMSmart

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As March Madness college basketball heats up across the nation, Startup Madness is heating up the Triangle with college entrepreneurs pitching groundbreaking ideas in the realm of health, education and technology. 

The fifth annual Startup Madness was hosted by the NC State Poole College of Management at the State Club in Raleigh, and the finalists went head to head last Friday night. Each entrepreneurial team came from a university in the ACC. 

Modeled after the NCAA college basketball finals, the event began on Friday with the “Sweet 16” and judges voted it down to a final “Elite 8”—the founders then pitched their startup ideas to the public. The Elite 8 Finalists were as follows:

Atramento from the Georgia Institute of Technology 

This team created a patent-pending alternative to traditional tattooing—users design a tattoo online and are shipped the desired pattern made up of air needles filled with tattoo ink so they can administer their own tattoo at home in just minutes and for less than 10% of the cost of a traditional tattoo. Designed by a team of biomedical and mechanical engineers, Atramento hopes to eliminate the barriers that keep people from getting tattoos. Find the company on Twitter: @AtramentoInk 

Queralyze from Florida State University 

This team hopes to improve the 35 percent graduation rates at community colleges by creating a software learning system that utilizes short videos and a practice database to supplement the classroom curriculum. Queralyze allows teachers to control the workflow and personalize each student’s learning experience. The startup plans to license its software to community colleges all over the country and already have tentative contracts with two Florida-based institutions. 

Standard Ice from Clemson University 

Founded by a former Coca-Cola employee, Standard Ice strives to “build a better drink” by creating a device that makes premium ice. Premium ice is to regular ice what bottled water is to tap water. The team has created a toaster-oven like machine that makes crystal clear, perfect ice in 12 hours—it will be marketed to restaurants and bars to ensure customer drinks are served with premium ice. 

Cromoz from Duke University 

This medical research team uses nanotechnology to create biomedical materials that allow neurological medicines and treatments to better cross the blood-brain barrier. The current product has secured one patent. Several other patents are pending for products that increase the percentage of medicine getting into the brain, allowing doctors to decrease the doses of medications they give to patients. The team plans to license the technology within the next year. 

LoboStim from NC State University 

Founded under the idea of “patient-first innovation,” LoboStim created a non-invasive electrical stimulation device that will help eliminate the need for patients with spinal issues to receive a painful procedure called SCS trial surgery. With a prototype that utilizes magnetics field and ultrasound technology that costs $2,000 to produce, the startup hopes to partner with device manufacturers to create and market this safe therapeutic device to aid in the diagnosis of spinal injuries. The prototype was designed by a team of biomedical engineering students and is still in the trial phase. 

Bioletics from Georgia Tech University 

In the United States, over 750,000 cats and dogs suffer from diabetes, and Bioletics hopes to make the management of the disease in these animals easier and more affordable for pet owners. While current methods for pet diabetes treatment require hundreds of dollars a month and difficult scheduling, Bioletics has created a device called “Stability” that eliminates the need for insulin injections and syncs up to a mobile app that allows pet owners to keep an eye on their pet’s vitals at all times. The device is implanted in the animal’s abdomen by a vet and has a one-time cost of $1,000. Bioletics hopes to use the animal diabetes market as a stepping stone towards treating human diabetes. The team will raise capital and seek FDA approval in the future. 

SMSmart from Duke University 

This team created an application that allows smartphone users to use their favorite mobile apps without a 3G or wifi connection. The SMSmart team created an interface that makes a user feel connected to the Internet when the Android app is actually sending data over SMS back to a server which then fetches information the user requested and texts it back to the app. The team demonstrated how Google Maps works with the app by inputting the desired destination, and within seconds directions popped up on the application’s screen. SMSmart is perfect for using mobile apps while in areas lacking data coverage and has already been featured on LifeHacker and Gizmodo. 

YomNom from NC State University 

Inspired by their love for family meals, this team created a website and mobile app that helps users cook at home. YomNom optimizes time spent in the grocery store, money spent on groceries, and ingredients the user already has at home. It aids in simple shopping, recipe discovery, meal planning, and it has a collaborative element allowing everyone in a group to input what they want to eat. It has gone through a phase of customer driven development and a beta version will be available in May on multiple platforms including web, iOS, and Android. Find more about YomNom on Twitter: @yomnomapp 
The “Final 4” Winners from these finalists were Queralyze in 4th place, Bioletics in 3rd, Cromoz in 2nd and SMSmart winning the event overall. 

Placing Teams at Startup Madness 2015
Teams from Duke University, Georgia Tech University and Florida State University took home top prizes at the 2015 Startup Madness.

Queralyze won a $100 cash prize and a business development consultation with the CLL Group while Bioletics won $300 and a venture consultation with Idea Fund Partners. 

Cromoz won a $500 cash prize, a venture consultation with the Bull City Venture Partners, a three-month co-working membership at HQ Raleigh, full tuition covered for the Leadership exCHANGE program, and a $3,000 tuition credit for the Tech Talent Scout’s code immersion program. The team presentation was lead by Cromoz President Afreen Allam, a first year MBA student at the Duke University Fuqua School of Business. 

“Looking forward, we want to do more studies on modifications and look at the exact dosage we need to deliver treatments in order to help cure Alzheimers, even brain tumors and any other diseases of the brain,” Allam said. 

SMSmart was lead by a Duke University senior in computer science, Alan Ni (pictured top). The team will receive a $1000 cash prize from the RTP, a $1000 travel stipend from Citrix to travel to Silicon Valley for a meeting with venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, a spot in the ThinkHouse accelerator, a spot in the Queen City Forward ImpactU Accelerator, 6 months of free cell phone service from Republic Wireless, one full scholarship and tuition credits for the Tech Talent Scout’s code immersion program, and another full tuition scholarship to the Leadership exCHANGE program. 

Ni is currently working with three other students he met through Duke—senior in computer science and math Ben Schwab is the team's Android expert; senior in computer science Jay Wang is the web backend expert; and Duke graduate Joyce Yu handles marketing. Here's how they came up with the idea:

“The genesis of the idea came when we were studying abroad in India and we didn’t have any data but needed to access Google Maps,” Ni said. “We thought of a text messaging app that would allow us to access Google.” 

The students continued working on their idea after returning to the US last summer. 

“When we started pitching the idea to people, a lot of them asked if we had considered emerging markets,” Ni said. “Then we heard about the Android One that Google is releasing in India, so now there’s a lot more smart phone options and that grew the idea behind SMSmart.” 

Ni is optimistic about the future of SMSmart and is looking forward to working on the app that is currently available in the Google Play Store. “Three of us are part-time students and will be working on this full time,” Ni said.