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UA Little Rock Team to Compete in Rice Business Plan Competition

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A team of business students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock has been selected as one of 42 teams from some of the world’s top universities who will compete for more than $1.5 million in prizes at the Rice Business Plan Competition April 4-6.

The competition has been dubbed as the world’s richest and largest student startup competition with a top prize of a $300,000 investment from the GOOSE Society. UA Little Rock was the only team from Arkansas selected to compete.

The “Vascugenix” team is comprised of UA Little Rock students Noah Asher, senior finance and economics major; Abigail Resendiz, senior international business and management major; and Zach Cochran, senior economics major. Martial Trigeaud, a UA Little Rock adjunct professor and business consultant at the Arkansas Small Business and Technology Development Center, is mentoring the team.

“We are very excited to be competing in this prestigious new venture competition and to be recognized as one of the top startup teams in the world,” Asher said.

The group collaborated with Arkansas Cardiology Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Dwight Chrisman and Baptist Health Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit Nurse Anna Helm to commercialize a medical device invented by Chrisman. The device, the “Speed-Torque,” is a medical torque device used by surgeons in minimally invasive heart surgery, also known as interventional cardiology procedures.

The teams for this year’s competition were chosen from more than 300 applicants to compete in four categories: life sciences/medical devices/digital health; digital/information technology/mobile; energy/clean technology/sustainability; and other innovations/investment opportunity.

More than 210 former competitors have successfully launched their ventures and are still in business today, including 25 startups that have been acquired. Past competitors have raised more than $2.2 billion in capital and created more than 3,000 new jobs.

“The true measure of success for the Rice Business Plan Competition is the number of teams that launch, raise funding, and go on to succeed in their business,” said Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship at Rice University, host of the event. “The competition has served as the launch pad for a great number of successful entrepreneurial ventures, and the success rate far exceeds the national average.”

Community members can show their support for the team by casting their vote in the People’s Choice Competition via Facebook.

UA Little Rock’s team has already seen success promoting the speed-torque. They won second place and a $3,000 prize during the Ivey Business Plan Competition in January and will also enter the upcoming Arkansas Governor’s Cup competition.

Asher was part of a team of UA Little Rock students who won the undergraduate division of the Arkansas Governor’s Cup and a $25,000 prize last year for their business plan for Spiritum Solutions, a mouth guard designed so that patients undergoing surgery or bronchoscope procedures do not damage their mouths by biting down on the tubes. Additionally, Asher received a $2,000 cash prize for winning the undergraduate elevator pitch competition.

He believes that his previous experience, combined with the team’s compelling business strategy, gives them a unique advantage in both competitions and in the marketplace.

“While we do have an exciting technology that will greatly benefit both surgeons and patients, we are not trying to change the way minimally invasive heart surgery is done or disrupt the marketplace,” Asher said. “We are instead focused on providing incremental, yet innovative changes that fit within existing surgical techniques, but also drastically improve surgical precision and safety. We believe that this strategy will help to drive our clinical adoption rate and to achieve long-term, sustainable growth that will generate substantial returns for investors. Our acceptance into Rice is a strong validation that investors see value in this strategy and that we are poised for success.”

The students, Zach Cochran, bottom left, Noah Asher, center, and Abigail Resendiz, bottom right, collaborated with Arkansas Cardiology Interventional Cardiologist Dr. Dwight Christman, back left, and Baptist Health Catdiovascular Nurse Anna Helm , center left, to commercialize a medical device invented by Chrisman to help cardiologists perform heart surgery with greater safety and efficiency. Photo by Benjamin Krain.

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