by Julia Trupp
When the UA Little Rock sends students to conferences and competitions, they don’t come to play. They come to represent their school pride, talent, hard work and determination. And they do it well. And that’s exactly what four University of Arkansas at Little Rock students did at the Governor’s Cup Business Plan competition in April, with their award-winning company Spiritum Solutions.
Nicholas Lester, 22, and Noah Asher, 21, hatched the idea for the company when they decided to go forward with competition plans in the Governor’s Cup. In the summer of 2017, they signed an option agreement for a technology from University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Bioventures, formed an LLC, and built a business plan around the technology, Asher said. Once they went through the Delta I-Fund early-stage accelerator program the following fall semester, they realized the technology they had built their company around wasn’t effective. So, with customer feedback, they designed their own technology that would likely meet their customers needs.
“Part of our process in developing this technology was meeting with potential customers and end users to try and understand what their needs were and some of the problems they were facing in their day-to-day jobs,” Asher said. “This allowed us to design our technology so that it could meet all of the requirements the people using our device would have and it would solve the biggest problems they to regularly deal with.”
The device, nicknamed the NuET Tube (pronounced nu-ee-tee tube), aims to help critical care wards treat ventilated patients (like in the ICU or NICU) and prevent adverse patient events like unplanned extubations, Asher said.
There is no adequate solution for effectively securing an endotracheal (ET) tube, he said. The company’s aim is to provide a simple, safe medical device that doctors and health care professionals can insert and adjust quickly without the threat of patient injury or wasted time.
Lester and Asher have a history together as business students, so starting the company together made sense. “Due to the nature of our business, we knew we needed a person with experience in health sciences,” Asher said. They brought in Ingrid Helgestad, a junior biochemistry major with medical experience and involvement in the same honors program as Noah. Their fourth teammate, senior marketing student Kiauna Rome, came into the group in January 2018 to help with the marketing aspect for the upcoming Governor’s Cup.
Lester also came with experience from the Governor’s Cup two years ago, but this was the full team’s first time attending and competing. They won first place in the Undergraduate Division and the first place prize of $25,000. They also took home first place in the elevator pitch competition for the Undergraduate Division and the first place prize of $2,000. Along with their governor’s cup successes, Spiritum Solutions has raised over $100,000 of capital to date, Asher said. This includes a Phase 0 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Science Foundation.
The Spiritum Solutions team continues to develop the company technology to bring to market. They are going through the National Science Foundation’s I-CORPS program, and from there they have been accepted into a three-month advanced medical start-up program in Memphis, which takes place this summer.
(Pictured at top: Asher, second from right, accepts the team’s award for best elevator pitch alongside Arkansas Capital Corporation CEO Rush Deacon, Delta Plastics CEO Dhu Thompson and Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin.)