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UTSA computer science, business and engineering students competed for the nation’s largest undergraduate business planning award at the $100K Student Venture Competition.

The semi-annual event was hosted by the UTSA Center for Innovation and Technology Entrepreneurship (CITE) at the UTSA College of Business on Dec. 6.

“Entrepreneurship is the life blood of capitalism that grows the whole country,” said Texas businessman George Karutz, Sr. at the competition. Karutz along with the Texas Research and Technology Foundation, financed a large portion of the competition’s award.

The event is the culmination of the seven teams’ semester-work. Students presented their company’s comprehensive business plan, as well as a product prototype which the teams developed throughout the semester, to the judges.

“I was with a lot of these (students) and they’re real doers and accomplishers and people that have been very successful,” said Karutz. “It’s the best representation of successful, dedicated businessmen to this program.”

After a brief business pitch, each of the teams filtered questions from a panel of judges, who were chosen for their experience in business and academia.

The top three teams receive a total of $100,000 worth of prizes (cash and in-kind business services) essential for covering the proposed companies’ start-up costs. Each participating team is eligible to use a portion of an available $2,000 budget, offered by the National Science Foundation and other donors, should they decide to continue their business ventures through to fruition.

Although not all teams plan to continue developing their businesses, the program will continue to offer guidance as well as increased funds for development.

“We had to sacrifice a lot of time. But we always had in mind that hard work always pays off and that perseverance and consistence always wins,” said Edgar Ibarra, a student-developer of Saynata by iSleepTech after his team’s first-place victory.

Saynata addresses problems associated with obstructive sleep apnea. When a person sleeps on his or her back, upper airway muscles relax, causing the tongue to move back and create a narrow airway.

Sleep apnea occurs when the airway is completely closed and breathing stops. Saynata keeps those airways open, reducing repeated nighttime awakenings and negative health consequences such as choking while sleeping and morning headaches.

iSleepTech plans to release the product over the course of the next three years.

Thetis Smart Engineering placed second with their prosthetic foot designed for high impact activity. Third place went to FireFly, a facial and breathing recognition baby monitor that transmits vital signs via a phone app indicating whether or not an infant is lying face up.

Proof that start-up companies can successfully stem from UTSA senior semester projects, previous $100K competition winners Leto Solutions (2013) and Deadeye (2010) tabled at the event.

“If it weren’t for the competition, there would be no business,” said Gary Walters, a UTSA alumnus who developed Leto Solutions, a company that addresses prosthetic heating.

“We would have just graduated and got jobs before the competition. None of us on the engineering side thought of going into business; we were going to graduate and be engineers.”

Support from the UTSA College of Engineering, the UTSA Office of the Vice President for Research, Rackspace, the San Antonio Technology Center and other local businesses promote ventures in interdisciplinary student-business development like the $100k start-up competition.

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