NWA Students Compete in Startup Fair

Rex Hearn (left), a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, and Kaushik Ramini (right), a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, attend the IdeaFame contest Oct. 28.

A UA senior won $1,000 for his startup pitch after competing Oct. 28 against other Northwest Arkansas college students in the IdeaFame contest, a competition geared toward student entrepreneurs.

Twenty-nine competitors had 60 seconds to pitch their business ideas to three judges and the audience without using slideshows or note cards. 

Carlos Diaz, a senior, won the people’s choice prize for his business idea, Glide Nano, and plans to use the money to help fund his existing business.

“It was quite challenging because English isn't my first language since I'm from Panama and my first language is Spanish,” Diaz said. “It was also my first time presenting to a big audience for a pitch competition and there's too much information for 60 seconds.” 

Glide Nano is a ski wax that produces 40% less friction to help the bottom of ski equipment glide and uses green nanotechnology to replace toxic fluorocarbons.

“I didn't know if my idea (would be) good enough, especially because there are not many ski resorts here,” Diaz said. 

The idea for the product came after Diaz and his team spent last summer working for SurfTec, a company that creates new products based on nanotechnology. Months later, the team partnered with a company in Belgium to continue the development of Glide Nano. 

Glide Nano will kick-start its company website and begin distribution Nov. 11. 

After winning the prize, Diaz said he will use some of the money to purchase equipment needed for his current entrepreneurship projects.  

“I do need some equipment for my computer to some design like advanced machine coding, and I need more hardware added to my computer,” Diso basically the money that I'm getting right now I'll just invest it into that,” Diaz said.

IdeaFame is a competition designed for college students currently enrolled at the UofA, Northwest Arkansas Community College and John Brown University. The competition is sponsored by Startup Junkie, a local company that focuses on helping entrepreneurs in Northwest Arkansas.

Throughout the event, judges and audience members heard a wide range of business ideas, including Isaiah Maina’s idea of developing an app that delivers condoms and other safe sex products to university students. UA graduate assistant Molly Bombonato pitched functional clothing for women made from sustainable fabrics and choose suppliers that are environmentally conscious. 

Blake Arrington, a freshman, pitched his product called Cube Energy, an organic post-workout drink designed for women. 

With a short amount of time to present his idea, Arrington said he prepared for the event by writing out his script and spending hours memorizing it.

“A minute is not a lot of time to tell everybody the most important aspects of your business so it's kind of stressful,” Arrington said. “But it really prepares you for what real-life business is going to be like.” 

Arrington said that he believes the contest gave a good opportunity to showcase different inventions from people and what they are passionate about regardless if they are entrepreneurs or not.

Toward the end of the event, judges allowed for three wildcard spots, the wildcards were an opportunity for audience members that had not previously signed up to still have time to pitch an idea. Due to the energy and participation of the crowd, judges changed the rules and allowed up to five wildcard pitches instead of the original three spots they had originally scheduled.

Wenjie Zhu, a senior, attended the IdeaFame contest in support of her teammate Ontario West, who pitched their team’s idea for an improved version of a bulletproof backpack when she decided to take the chance of pitching her own idea during the wildcard round.  

“I wasn't prepared at all, but since there's only one person who is pitching in the group I decided to go,” Zhu said. “I had been thinking about this idea for a long time, I just never had the chance to pitch it or even talk to anybody about.”

Zhu said after having this experience of presenting to an audience she now hopes to take more time to develop her business idea for future events. 

“It was just a very impulsive thing so it makes me want to actually rethink the whole structure of my pitch and maybe be able to pitch again in another event officially,” Zhu said.

Elyse Cano is a staff reporter for The Arkansas Traveler.

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