Missouri S&T students pitch their startup concepts for cash prizes

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On December 11, 2023

Startup Challenge

Jacob Ward presents Glassiderm, a treatment for acne scars that won first-place prize in S&T’s second annual Startup Challenge. The team was one of nine that pitched its concept for a startup during the final round of the competition, which was held Nov. 13. Photo by Sam Wright, Missouri S&T.

Winning projects designed to improve acne scar treatment, sustainable energy and weightlifting safety

Glassiderm, a treatment for acne scars developed by three Missouri University of Science and Technology students, won the $5,000 first-place prize in the university’s second annual Startup Challenge on Nov. 13. The team was one of nine that pitched its concept and business model for a startup during the final round of the competition, which was co-sponsored by Kummer Student Programs and Career Opportunities and Employer Relations. To watch the pitches, click here.

S&T developed the challenge to give all students the chance to experience presenting a business model, which is less detailed and more intuitively understandable than a business plan, to a panel of judges with entrepreneurial experience. Prior to the final competition, teams were required to complete a series of learning modules and to work with faculty or staff mentors.

Diane Butrus, who earned a bachelor’s degree in computer science from S&T in 1986, served as a judge. After numerous positions in technology, Butrus pivoted to fashion and is now chief operating officer of Diba Imports, a men’s and women’s footwear company based in Earth City, Missouri. An entrepreneur who loves startups, she judges new ventures competing for grants for businesses committed to locating in the city of St. Louis.

In addition to the concepts pitched to her during the Startup Challenge, she was struck by the students’ enthusiasm and the speed with which they prepared.

“The main interest of the teams seemed to be making a positive difference in the world, which I found completely inspiring,” Butrus says. “I was also struck by how much they accomplished in such a short period of time. They jumped in and invested time and energy, and the energy and how quickly the pitches came together was phenomenal.”

Butrus says the winning team pitched its concept in a way that was clear and compelling.

“Everyone could see the research behind the pitch,” she says. “They’re in the right place and they need to keep going.”

According to Jacob Ward, a member of the Glassiderm team, they plan to. Glassiderm is a proposed alternative to current treatments for acne scars, such as chemical peeling, dermabrasion and laser, which team members say can be unnecessarily invasive and destructive. The goal of Glassiderm is to use the dissolution of bioactive glass as an easy-to-use topical treatment to assist in the body’s natural wound-healing abilities.

Bioactive glass is an innovation familiar to many at S&T. An amorphous, silicate-based material that’s compatible with the human body, it’s aided in bone regeneration by bonding to bone, stimulating new bone growth, then dissolving over time. Missouri S&T researchers received a patent in 2021 for an implant made with bioactive glasses and metal ions.

Glassiderm pushes bioactive glass beyond bones and applies it to soft tissue. It’s applied to skin with a dropper and rubbed into place. Over time, the bioactive glass particles slowly release the healing agents, such as rejuvenating oils and moisturizers, before dissolving. Glassiderm can be used in combination with chemical peels.

The current target market is pharmaceutical companies that distribute the product over the counter to consumers struggling with cystic acne. The team considers speed of recovery, accessibility and low cost its main competitive advantages.

“Our experience with the Startup Challenge prepares us for future competitions,” Ward says.

Ward is a senior in chemical engineering from O’Fallon, Missouri. Other team members are Jayce Billington, a junior in biological sciences from Oakville, Missouri, and Lacy Chapman, a sophomore in biological sciences from St. Charles, Missouri. All three are members of S&T’s Biomedical Engineering Design Team, which was also well represented at last year’s Startup Challenge.

The team that pitched Andi, a sustainable energy system, won the $3,000 second-place prize. Team members are Josue Cavazos, a junior in computer engineering from Monett, Missouri; and Auston Obsuth, a sophomore in engineering management from Rolla, Missouri.

The team that pitched Safe Plate, a device that increases the safety of bench pressing, won the $1,000 third-place prize. Team members are Ava Berutti, a sophomore in psychology;  Devin Keating, a first-year mechanical engineering student; and Hayden St. John, a first-year chemical engineering student. All three students are from Ellisville, Missouri.

For Ward, the Startup Challenge was an important leg on a personal journey. He’s had ideas he thought would make for good startup pitches, but he felt held back by what he considers terrible presentation skills caused by a serious case of stage fright. Encouraged by his father, Ward started joining groups and going after leadership roles in which, he says, being nervous wasn’t an option. Over time his presentation skills improved.

“If you’re afraid of speaking in front of groups but you have ideas and an entrepreneurial spirit within you, you just need to go for it,” he says. “It’s not even about the prizes. Whether it’s marketing skills, the ability to present science or explain finance, you’re going to become more confident. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

About Missouri University of Science and Technology

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is a STEM-focused research university of over 7,000 students located in Rolla, Missouri. Part of the four-campus University of Missouri System, Missouri S&T offers over 100 degrees in 40 areas of study and is among the nation’s top public universities for salary impact, according to the Wall Street Journal. For more information about Missouri S&T, visit www.mst.edu

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On December 11, 2023. Posted in Career Opportunities Center, Kummer Student Programs

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