$20,000 may seem like a lot of money to hand over to graduating college seniors, but the four members of VieMetrics know exactly how they will invest their Lulu eGames winnings. .

VieMetrics received first place in three categories of last week’s NC State startup competition, including the top tiered New Venture category, which crowned this team winner of the annual games. The four founders designed a portable spirometer that they believe will help doctors treat patients with asthma, reducing the risk of patients developing long lasting health impairments due to inhaler reliance.

VieMetrics, winner of the 2017 Lulu eGames. From Left: James Dieffenderfer, Eric Beppler, London White and Charles Hood. Credit: NC State Entrepreneurship Initiative

The LuLu eGames, run by NC State’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (EI), began in 2009 with the goal of encouraging entrepreneurship and new business formation on campus and providing early stage capital to the most promising teams and ideas. Title sponsor Lulu, the Raleigh-based independent publishing company, extended its partnership with the Entrepreneurship Initiative to continue sponsoring the eGames through 2020.

This year, 21 finalists for the competition were selected out of a record-setting 192 entries. Judges from across the U.S. awarded the first, second and third place to teams competing across five categories: Arts Venture, Built on Cloud, Social Impact, Design and Prototype and New Venture.

To enter the competition, teams had to submit a two-page executive summary and a 60-second video pitch. In the second round of judging, the finalists gave live pitches to the panel of judges.

Megan Greer, director of communication and outreach for the Entrepreneurship Initiative, has seen winners of Lulu eGames go on to develop impactful products, gain investors, secure patents, hire attorneys and bring on more staff. Examples are Triangle startups Undercover Colors, Bee Downtown, Offline Media, Trakex and Frill Clothing.

“The influx of cash awarded at the eGames gives these teams a nest egg to work from and pursue their dream,” says Greer. “But even if they don’t win, the exposure is great.”

Greer says that several investors have been matched with Lulu eGames participants over the years. And for those who want to continue growing their venture, they can apply for the EI Fellows Program. Teams that are chosen are given a six- month stipend and access to the Entrepreneurship Initiative Garage, a shared working space equipped with prototyping equipment, meeting rooms and other resources.

Here are the top performing ventures of this year’s Lulu eGames:

VieMetrics Inc.

The big winner of the night was VieMetrics, the creators of VitalFlo. Team members London White, Eric Beppler, James Dieffenderfer and Charles Hood created a prototype for a portable spirometer that tracks and sends patients’ data to their smartphones and doctors.

“Respiratory diseases are very prevalent in the United States,” says White, the team’s business expert, adding that COPD is the third leading cause of death.

Through research, the VieMetrics team found that inhalers are not the most effective treatment for patients who suffer from respiratory diseases.

With help from NC State professors Dr. John Muth and Dr. Alper Bozkurt, the team started work late last year to establish the prototype, which now has multiple patents pending.

Since the biomedical device industry is very competitive, VieMetrics will use the prize money to finalize a design for VitalFlo, and begin the FDA approval process, so they can begin taking their product to pediatricians and health clinics. VieMetrics has already started testing VitalFlo and have run clinical trials on over 50 patients at UNC Rex Healthcare.

When asked what the biggest challenge in the next five years would be, Beppler expressed both concern and optimism over new companies likely to enter the industry.

“We are striving to be the most portable and most accurate,” says Beppler, “which will make us the best.”

VieMetrics won $10,000 by taking home first in the New Venture category, and another $10,000 for winning first place in the Social Impact and Design and Prototype categories.

Atariasticians

The scientists, programmers, educators and artists behind Atariasticians (Longshaokan Wang, Tea Blumer, Eric Rose, Nick Meyers, Nick Kapur, James Gilman, Wenhao Hu, Lisa Wong and Maria JahJa) made it clear that their venture is just as fun as it is educational. Between a Dr. Seuss-like rhyming pitch video and a costumed live pitch, the team made sure they were memorable.

Atariasticians create game-based modules for high school students, which they hope spark interest in statistics and make learning fun, while building the next generation of data scientists.

Atariasticians hopes to find partners and sponsors so they can get these modules in the hands of students for free.

The team’s eGames winnings totaled $9,500 after a first place win in the Arts Venture category, third place wins in Built on Cloud and Social Impact, and taking home the Fan Favorite Video award in the Social Impact category.

 

Rhythcor

Firefighters face many deadly obstacles while out on a call, but the No. 1 killer is heart attacks. Inspired by the unexpected death of N.C. Air National Guard Captain Allen Hicks from a heart attack after responding to a fire, students Travis Murray, Jack Dodd, Alexander Bless, Tyler Murray and Brian Graham, came together to create PulseAware, a prototyped device under their startup venture Rhythcor.

 

PulseAware is a device that monitors a firefighter’s heart through a system of electrode sensors embedded in an undershirt. If the data collected from the sensors shows warning signs of a heart attack, PulseAware contacts emergency services. There’s even a GPS device in PulseAware that can help EMS locate a firefighter if unconscious.

The team of engineers plans to use the $6,500 in eGames prize money to bring the product to market and build a company after graduation this year.

“We actually have the engineering side covered, and it’s only Tyler on the business side, where we need the most help,” jokes Murray.

Rhythcor won second place and the Fan Favorite Video award in the Social Impact category and third place in the Design and Prototype category.

The Rhythcor team has applied for the new Andrews Launch Accelerator through NC State, which could provide up to $50,000 if chosen.

RipeNow

Seth McMillan, Alex Tulenko and John Malatras, all engineering students, wanted to change the way Triangle communities source their produce. At first, they developed an app that would allow neighborhoods and local farmers to form a network to buy and sell produce, but after sharing that idea with local farmers, they discovered a different problem to solve.

“We met a farmer at a local farmer’s market and explained the idea for our app,” says McMillan, “but he said that the big issue that the community faces is getting food from the food producers to the consumer. We had to change our scope, but that’s how we formed RipeNow.”

RipeNow is a digital community that cuts out the middleman and allows restaurants to purchase fresh produce directly from local farmers on the online marketplace. The food is fresher and more cost effective, McMillan says. And RipeNow even has certified transporters who deliver orders. It is partnering with food hubs to gain experience and expand the network of farmers.

As part of the Built on Cloud category, all entrants had to use IBM technology in the formation of the venture. RipeNow uses IBM Blockchain to create an encrypted ledger system that will enable the team to track any diseased or infected produce that happens to be delivered from one of the farmers. This allows them to locate and dispose of the shipment quickly and prevent an outbreak.

RipeNow was the first place winner of the Built on Cloud category, winning $5,000.

Re-Cycle

Bikeshare programs are a growing trend in large cities and universities, but according to the student team for Re-Cycle, these programs are expensive to start and manage. It cost Washington D.C. $3 million to launch its bikeshare program in 2010.

The idea to create a better bikeshare program hit engineering student Alper Ender, a bike enthusiast, after he rode his bike across the United States and realized that locals in large cities had limited access to bikes for exercise or recreational use. With Re-Cycle, Ender and the rest of the team (fellow electrical and computer engineering seniors Kevin Holgado, Julien Chomette and Taha Arif) have prototyped a wireless self service device that can be easily attached to any bike rack and hold any bike.

Lulu eGames was not the first pitch contest the team entered their idea in. While working on their senior design projects, the engineers would come together to relax from the stress of their assignments and develop the idea behind Re-Cycle. From there, they decided to enter the NC State Make-a-thon (a four-day sustainability innovation competition) in February and won first place. With the four 3D printers they won in the competition, they printed prototypes and started to collect feedback from experts and potential clients.

According to Holgado, the EI Garage was an invaluable resource for Re-Cycle, providing experts the team could ask for advice, tools and other business resources.

Moving forward, Re-Cycle is looking for areas where they can test the prototype. They plan to work with NC State’s bike rental service WolfWheels to help them solve distribution challenges and the Cary Chamber of Commerce to start building a bikeshare program throughout the city of Cary.

SaKaroTech

Blood is a perishable commodity, and the current methods for extending its shelf life are expensive, time consuming and labor intensive.

Graduate students London White (also a VieMetrics team member), Scott Frazee and Karthik Narasimhan created a new way to preserve red blood cells to keep vital blood supplies good for an entire year. Their freezing process can be integrated in current processing methods.

With the 36,000 units of blood that the U.S. needs every day, SaKaroTech hopes to stop the waste of blood due to expiration and enable hospitals to ensure they always have enough on hand.

SaKaroTech’s venture was awarded second place and $7,000 in the New Venture category.

Check out our infographic of the winners below: