Yesterday I was at a lunch where University of Illinois alum Mannie Jackson spoke. If you don’t know him, he is the owner of the Harlem Globetrotters. He wrote a book called Boxcars to Boardrooms.
One of the stories Mr. Jackson told was about a trip to Poland in 1961. He wound up speaking with people about the differences between capitalism and life behind the Iron Curtain.
The people that were living life behind the Iron Curtain said that America was wrong. It was totally messed up. Mr. Jackson said at that moment, he had an out of body experience and began feverishly arguing with them about the virtues of capitalism versus centrally planned totalitarian systems. It was life changing for him.
Today, I am lucky to be on the campus of the University of Illinois in Champaign. I am one of the people judging in the Cozad New Venture Challenge. This is a cradle of capitalism. The university is a shining light in a state that is deservedly getting some bad press.
The students have been working on ideas that became products that could become really big companies. They have built it.
The University of Illinois is the number one engineering program in the United States. It is really an amazing place and only gets better. The sheer quantity of great engineers it turns out year after year is pretty amazing. The quality is off the charts. Like everything in education these days, sustaining that quality is hard. Money is always an issue.
The college has top notch students. Perfect test scores are not an abnormality. It’s harder to get into U of I engineering than it is Harvard. Many students come from Illinois, but a lot come from California and points beyond. It’s diverse. Lots of women are entering the college. The faculty is really amazing too. Nobel Prize winners, but mostly great engineers that see the future and solve problems using cutting edge technology. It must be incredibly stimulating to work everyday in an environment like that.
Yesterday I saw some amazing new television technology that will blow your eyes away. I spoke with researchers and scientists that are working on things that will change your life if they are successful at innovating.
The professors are passionate about this place. It permeates through to the student body.
To give you a flavor of what the students will be pitching, here is a list of the 19 finalists. Which one of them looks interesting to you? How do you think the company will evolve and do things never before possible? What sort of impact do you think the company would have if it were successful? Which one would change your life today?
Amber Waves Grain Sensing: Amber Waves grain sensing technology allows farmers to remotely monitor and manage the condition of their crop in storage.
Balance Better: The Balance Better app measures balance and risk for falling in order to recommend exercises to help seniors live a healthy, independent life.
BioWire Analytics: Vascular synthetic tumor microenvironments for high-throughput pre-clinical screening to add breast cancer treatment indications of pre-approved drugs
Cast 21: Cast21 uses the latest in medical and engineering technologies to create more positive casting experiences for patients. Our product is a lattice structure cast that can be applied universally to conform to any amorphous shape, thus creating a form-fitting, breathable cast. This open, light-weight design allows for easy integration with our vibration and electrical muscle stimulation therapies to decrease overall healing time.
Corvae: Corvae has created a portable and wireless electrocardiograph monitor with real-time analytics and an intuitive interface. Both raw and processed data are made available wirelessly on web and mobile platforms. The Corvae heart monitoring platform will enable firefighters, nurses, and outpatients peace of mind and efficient data analysis. In all lawful manners, Corvae aims to provide intuitive displays, wireless connectivity, and real time analytics to customers in need.
ExoWear: ExoWear is developing a health and fitness wearable that monitors medical exercises of patients undergoing physical therapy. This device serves as a coaching aid by reminding and motivating the patient to complete their exercises and provides real-time feedback. Key medical information like range of motion, areas of pain, and electric activity in the muscle is relayed and monitored by the physician and physical therapist. Initially the device will be used for the rehabilitation in the knee, but the application can be extended to the shoulder and hip as well.
Fashfetch: Visual search platform for sharing fashion
Finger Diagnostics: Designing a dehydration sensor that is based on capillary refill test. The capillary refill test is a common test done by doctors to check for dehydration. The problem is that this test, when performed by a human, has many uncontrollable variables. Our device aims to better quantify the output. To perform the test you place your finger in the device, your finger is squeezed and then a camera and processor determine how much time it takes for blood to refills the capillaries. Based on the time it then outputs a simple message. For example You are slightly dehydrated. Drink water for at least 15 seconds and test again later.
Flower Power Energy: Flower Power Energy intends to supply portable and reliable power to areas that are off the grid or otherwise require a source of renewable power. Our product is a solar/combustion hybrid generator that can efficiently switch between power inputs as necessary. We intend to develop a proprietary system that can manage dual-input power to a single rechargeable lithium ion battery.
Gureka: Connecting students from different countries, with similar interests, who have a willingness to teach and learn languages, we aim to create a confluence of language learning and cultural awareness.
Hindered Polyurea Technology: Our product based on hindered polyurea technology provides a low-cost sacrificial polymers (polymers that can thermally evaporate) with lower degradation temperature and lower residual level than current commercially-available sacrificial polymers.
MyMetrics: MyMetrics develops intelligent gym equipment that tracks and plans your workout activity automatically. We have a mobile and web app that can help users track their workout progress with no manual input required.
MyriaDrive: A transmission device utilizing uninterrupted gear ratios to increase energy efficiency in autos.
Nardo Technology: Nardo Technology develops a smartphone-based electrochemical sensor for the rapid detection of illegal narcotics and explosives.
Reconstruct: Reconstruct provides easy and quick access to actionable and predictive construction performance analytics via already-existing images captured with drones or ground cameras and 3D building models.
Sun Buckets, Inc.: Sun Buckets, Inc. is developing sustainable technology to collect, store, and use solar energy for cooking and other household applications while emulating the familiarity of a wide variety of traditional cooking cultures without the need for fuel, flame, or emissions. These small and portable cookstoves collect solar energy using solar parabolic concentrating dishes that facilitate storage temperatures of 350-500C. We have begun field testing and currently have working prototypes that have been successful in cooking full meals on a single charge.
Therapalz: With the aim of eliminating fatigue of caregivers for patients with Alzheimers, this product incorporates modern technology to allow for better monitoring of patient sleep quality and sleeping patterns during nighttime. Once installed unnoticeably in a patients bed, the measurements made by the device will provide meaningful and useful sleep data about a patient in real-time. This will mitigate the exhaustion many caregivers experience from being on duty 24/7 by receiving information on their patient at all times.
Touch Light Innovations: Touch Light has created a product that is focused on making an impact in the power generation and renewable markets. The Power Pad, a low profile 1 x 1 x 2 device that generates up to 10 W of power per step, is going to make its entrance into the energy market allowing for private businesses, governments, and homeowners to generate their own power and help the environment at the same time.
VR MD: VR MD is a software solution for medical professionals, national academies of medicine, and enterprises to empower their workforce with the knowledge, data, and tools to better medical practice and enable safer surgical and clinical practice. This is done through utilizing virtual reality simulations that are highly engaging, and developed at a much cheaper cost, while saving both the consumer and the customer time and money.
Chicago’s entrepreneurial community has made great strides in the last ten years. Geography can be a tough hurdle. Illinois is on the bleeding edge of technology like virtual reality-but nothing beats meeting up in person……yet. Universities are figuring out how to be more collaborative. As a builder of the entrepreneurial community there, I am confident when I say the community doesn’t get supercharged without the University of Illinois. If you are in the Chicago entrepreneurial community, start thinking about how you can build a personal bridge to Champaign.
If you went to Illinois, you should be proud of what is going on in Champaign. Put some orange and blue on today. Over on the south side of campus, the College of Business, which boasts more CFOs of Fortune 1000 firms than any other school in the country, is pivoting to focus on entrepreneurship. We are on the cusp of something big happening.