Tasty bites, sights and sites at the Dempsey Startup Competition

The investment round of this year’s Dempsey Startup Competition unfolded with its usual commotion of entrepreneurial hustle and hubbub, innovation and inspiration.

A stroll through the midway of feverishly pitching student entrepreneurs is a blast for all the senses. This annual marquee event of the UW Foster School’s Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship featured AI adapters, game makers, clean energy tech, healthcare innovators, food and beverage producers, companies with a cause, even a battle of the “Nanos.”

Food and drinks

Wheyward Spirit stood out in the food & beverage category, with its superior-tasting “farm-to-flask” craft spirits made from excess whey of the dairy industry. “Some see whey as waste,” proclaims co-founder Emily Darchuk of the University of Oregon. “We see liquid gold!”

2nd Degree Snacks, launched by a team with a combined 100 years of experience in marketing at Costco, was sampling their freeze-dried fruit bites that somehow retain all the nutrients of the whole fruit with none of the Styrofoam chew that’s on the market today.

And then there were the mad geniuses behind the molecular coffee company with the comic book motif—ATOMO!! Andy Kleitsch, a Buerk Center advisor, recruited some of his students to help develop Atomo, which mimics the compounds found in coffee to create an ultrasmooth brew without the beans. This bizarro beverage creates any number of advantages over a traditional cup of joe, including a lack of teeth-staining pitch. As sacrilege as it may sound to even ask, is a clear cup of “coffee” in our future?

“Oh yeah!” said Kleitch, without hesitation.

It’s a brave new world, friends.

Companies with a cause

Novita is a mobile app that can organize the complex vagaries of senior care, created by a team of UW occupational therapy students.

Elixir, created by UW biochemistry and computer science student Marium Raza, connects uninsured people and undocumented immigrants to free medical resources and clinics to meet their health care needs and keep the ERs clear for emergencies.

Zense—a mashup of “zen in the home” and “sense of safety”—is a suite of passive sensors used to detect safety hazards for seniors living alone.

Second Line, an arresting display of lacy intimate apparel that looked like a Victoria Secret rival, turns out to be a line of lingerie designed to accept and conceal medical devices, such as insulin pumps and tubes, created by Foster Technology Management MBAs.

Taylor Moore’s mother inspired Access Candy. The MS Entrepreneur student’s mom has limited mobility due to multiple sclerosis but still likes “fancy things.” So Moore created a company that customizes accessories that are functional but fashionable to fit the unique lifestyle of wheelchair users. “I guess I’m in women’s fashion now,” he said with a grin.

Alpine Hydro is developing micro-hydro power generators that draw energy from runoff streams near ski resorts and other off-grid areas.

ElectroSolar Oxygen is the maker of a portable oxygen generator that can be deployed in rural medical facilities to produce medical-grade oxygen using sunlight, water and air.

And it turns out that the students peddling trays full of heart-shaped cupcakes were promoting DopCuff, their company that integrates doppler and automatic cuff technology into a device that allows more accurate blood pressure readings.

AI/Big Data/Software as a service

There’s always plenty of software plays at the competition and this year was no different.

Cura AI is using machine learning and image recognition to analyze medical scans and provide diagnoses in remote places that lack sufficient physician coverage.

DuJour is assembling a database of employee background checks to help reduce turnover and save money for restauranteurs.

Neu streamlines hotel-style cleaning service for Airbnb owners to help turn quicker and more inexpensively.

Search Beasts, another entry out of Foster’s MS in Entrepreneurship Program, is developing DIY digital marketing software for small businesses that would usually just go with their gut.

And Archiviste uses AI to help search for files no matter where you’ve placed them, across multiple platforms on and off the cloud.

Fun and games

Adventure Game Works makes a customizable kit that allows you to turn your home or office—or anywhere, really—into a live-action, role-playing puzzle game.

Selenologie is the maker of customizable dolls that resemble the articulated wooden figures used in art classes (so it’s perhaps no surprise that the founder, MS Entre student Cher Chen, is a sketch artist herself).

Rüminate Games produces a card game inspired by organizational goddess Mari Kondo to promote an ethic of tidiness, decluttering and calm. And yes, admits co-founder Amy Westrick of Presidio Graduate School, the umlaut ü is intended as an old-school emoji smile.

And one game developer also deserves the competition’s unofficial Best Business Name award (perhaps eking out the victory against Wheyward Spirit): Pitch Slap is a pretty clever concept, and pretty meta given the circumstances. It’s a card game, inspired by the show Shark Tank, that poses players a “terrible business idea” and asks them to concoct a convincing elevator pitch to sell the unsellable. “A good business person should be able to sell anything in 30 seconds,” declares Jennifer Yan, a senior at the Foster School of Business.

Nano vs. Nano

Finally, we come to the curiously neighboring student startups who share the prefix “nano,” despite their completely different concepts.

NanoPrint creates a strong composite material out of recycled paper waste that can be used in any plastic application (including all manner of 3D printing).

Whereas Nanodropper is a universal eyedropper adaptor that delivers more precise dosages of eye medications to reduce cost, waste and side effects. A veteran of last year’s Business Plan Competition, NanoDropper has since received FDA clearance and is working on a retail distribution strategy.

The team also won the Hollomon Health Innovation Challenge earlier this spring. So, are they aiming for another win?

“That’s the plan,” said Mackenzie Andrews, a grad student in bioengineering at the UW.

Isn’t it always?

Both Nanos and 14 other student startups advanced from the Investment Round to today’s Sweet 16 of the Dempsey Startup Competition.