UMKC students will compete at UM System Entrepreneurship Quest Student Accelerator Pitch Competition
The UMKC teams secured their spots in the March 25 competition. First place went to Genalytic. Second place went to Compost Collective KC. Third place went to Vest Heroes.
The student entrepreneurs were all solving problems through their business ventures. UMKC, MU, S&T and UMSL held workshops during the fall semester that covered business models, venture pitching and the EQ application process. University representatives and community leaders chose the most promising applicants, who participated in a pitch competition to narrow the field to 10 semifinalists. Student teams chosen during the first competition had the opportunity to participate in an eight-week EQ educational program.
The EQ program included workshops, mentoring, demo days and coaching from local entrepreneurs. The purpose is to help students research, develop and practice pitching their concepts based on feedback from business leaders, investors and subject-matter experts. At the end of the program each university held another pitch competition to choose three finalists and proceed to the EQ finals this week.
Round one of the finals starts at 4 p.m. April 15. Twelve teams will present on Zoom to a panel of judges recruited by each school. The top three present again in round two at 1 p.m. April 16 for a different panel of judges.
Winning UMKC Ventures
When UMKC School of Medicine student Fahad Qureshi started shadowing physicians, he saw that surgical operations involving an X-ray or radioactive imaging technology often requires the health care professional to wear a lead vest and skirt. The equipment was very heavy, weighing between 30 and 69 pounds.
Qureshi said surgeons complained of back pain and hindered operational mobility due to the excess weight. In addition, Qureshi said the pain worsened for physicians as they worked long surgeries and as they aged. To solve this problem, Qureshi realized he needed to add an engineering element to his medical background. He started an apprenticeship with a local engineer and learned how to work with his hands. Qureshi said his eyes were opened to the problem-solving nature of the field. He soon started constructing his own prototypes based on the action of pulleys and levers.
The prototype consisted of a lead vest/skirt with a tether. This tether was hooked to a cord that ran to a small hook on a ceiling. Finally, the cord was connected to a weight that offset the weight of the vest. In this way, a simple pulley was created. He contacted an interventional nephrology practice in Chicago that uses radioactive imaging called A.I.N., who allowed him to build a model in the operating room with special sterile materials. Qureshi used a 50-pound weight to make a 60-pound vest and skirt feel like just 10 pounds. The physicians at the practice were astounded and asked for more, citing their immense need.
“My preparation comes from trying to advance the company,” Qureshi said. “I’ve pitched the product to doctors in hospitals across the country, most notably at the Mayo Clinic. I intend to pitch the huge progress and real-world applicability.”
“I have learned what it takes to build something, and this program has given me an opportunity to take an idea to a business,” Qureshi said. “I saw a problem when my childhood friend’s passing was partially the result of pain and limited mobility of the physician wearing a heavy lead vest that complicated the operation. I saw an opportunity to create a solution. I want people to know that I, like every member of the health care team, want to serve patients better and help them achieve the longest, healthiest life possible,” Qureshi said.
Greyson Twist, Ph.D., bioinformatics and computer science major, founded Genalytic. He describes Genalytic as a way to prescribe the right drug for each patient based on their genome.
“Pharmacogenomics sounds, and is, really complicated; but the idea is that every time you take a new drug or combination of drugs, or even drugs and food, you toss the dice and hope you are going to be OK,” Twist said. “Usually you are, but sometimes the drug doesn’t work. The drug makes you worse, or the drug kills you. We aim to fix that problem.”
Twist left his job at Children’s Mercy a year and a half ago and started working on Genalytic full time. He considered using Genalytic for a PhD project only. But friends and family convinced him there was business value in his idea. At about the same time, Twist learned about the EQ program and decided to give it a try. The tag line he has been using is “putting the person back in personalized medicine.”
“We have a very long way to go, but the EQ program is – was – the first step. And the support they have given me has really put wind in my sails to try and make this a reality,” Twist said. “If you have an idea or go to the EQ program, you literally have nothing to lose.”
Compost Collective KC
Kyle McAllister, business administration graduate student, leads Compost Collective KC. The company’s goal is to solve two fundamental problems. The first is a global issue. McAllister said food waste is a major threat to the environment and is produced in the United States at an alarming rate. Approximately 30% to 40% of all waste going to landfills in the U.S. is food. He said that equates to approximately 33 billion pounds of food in landfills per year. That volume would fill the entire Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, each day for an entire year.
McAllister said food waste breaks down in a landfill without oxygen and, as a result, emits methane gas. Depending on the study, McAllister said methane gas has 25 to 84 times the climate-change impact than carbon dioxide. Given this issue, people are looking for more sustainable alternatives. McAllister cited a recent Yale study that found that 70% of Americans think environmental protection is more important than economic growth.
McAllister believes Compost Collective KC can help solve a second problem – give people a simple way to have a positive environmental impact by composting.
Kyle’s partner is Meredith McAllister, co-founder. They are preparing for the April competition by incorporating feedback from the judges, practicing the pitch with their team and presenting to Kyle’s MBA class for feedback.
“I’ve learned a lot! It’s been a blast to participate and see some of the other really great ideas competing in the program,” McAllister said. “I’ve improved my presentation skills and the competition has also pushed us to think critically about our business, and that has helped us make some helpful decisions.”