“Milestone Awards” accelerate student start-ups

YongoPal, Business Plan Competition teamEach year, CIE’s marquee Business Plan Competition—and its $65,000 in prize money—sparks the creation of 90+ student business plans. Now a new gift will encourage more of those student teams to transform into start-up teams.

The Herbert B. Jones Foundation’s Milestone Achievement Awards offer additional seed funding totaling $80,000 a year to the most promising of the competition’s Sweet 16 semi-finalists. “We wanted to accelerate some of these start-ups,” says Michael Bauer, president of the Jones Foundation, a long-time supporter of the competition. “So we came up with this idea of a real financial incentive for the teams to set and reach key milestones in the company’s development.”

It’s a simple proposition. The teams that are determined to move forward with their businesses identify five to seven “realistic but measurable” milestones. These might include negotiating a license, attaining additional financing, prototype development, proof-of-concept data, letters of intent from potential customers, launching a beta model, etc. Reach the milestones within six months of the competition and win an additional pot of seed money—with the expectation that successful new ventures will eventually pay the gift forward to fund future CIE start-ups.

In this first year of a three-year pilot program, the competition’s grand-prize winner and second place team are both working toward $25,000 Milestone Achievement Awards: YongoPal, a service enabling South Korean university students to hone their conversational English with American peers via webcam, and EETech, developing a medical device that enables people in wheelchairs to walk again. Working toward $10,000 awards are Assay Dynamics, developer of a simple, noninvasive diagnostic tool for physicians, Emergent Detection, developer of a handheld measure of fat loss, and WISErg, a converter of food waste to fuel or fertilizer.

The start-up teams also benefit from the expert counsel of the Milestone Achievement Awards program committee, comprised of Geoff Entress of Voyager Capital and Founder’s Co-op, Bill Bromfield of Fenwick and West, Marc Barros of Countour, Alan Portugal of Ivus Energy Innovations, Alan Dishlip of Billing Revolution, Adrian Smith of Ignition Partners, and Emer Dooley of the Alliance of Angels.

“This is a huge deal,” says Brian Glaister, a UW mechanical engineering student and co-founder of EETech, which recently closed its Series A financing to develop its ExoWalk technology. “Access to the committee is invaluable. And financially, the award means another month of runway for us. Any time you get capital without having to sell stock, it’s a good thing.”