VCU entrepreneurs win $24,000 in prizes

FreeMobility won the undergraduate division of the Venture Creation Competition. (Photos by Lena Price)

FreeMobility won the undergraduate division of the Venture Creation Competition. (Photos by Lena Price)

There were some rams in the shark tank last week.

Virginia Commonwealth University dished out $24,000 to 10 teams of aspiring student and alumni entrepreneurs during the second annual Venture Creation Competition.

Flip-flop makers Tribu pitch their product as the clock ticks down during the alumni event.

The Tribu team pitches its flip-flops as the clock ticks down during the alumni competition.

The two-day event was hosted by the university’s da Vinci Center for Innovation and is meant to help students turn their ideas into viable businesses, said Kenneth Kahn, the center’s director.

Of the 35 student teams that entered, 10 finalists made their pitches Friday to a panel of 12 judges in VCU’s Snead Hall. There were two divisions – undergraduate and graduate students – and the first-place winner in each category walked away with $5,000.

Mechanical engineering seniors John Swanson, Jonathan Marsh, Justin Dickerson and Matt Schell built a working prototype of a stair-climbing walker won first place in the undergraduate category.

Tumi Oredein, a graduate student from the da Vinci Center, clinched his division with his idea for a customizable silicone wristband. Using ballpoint pens or dry erase markers, customers can write whatever they want on the band’s surface. Oredein said that the design is meant to appeal to kids but that he would use the prize money to continue testing the market.

The undergraduate team will represent VCU on May 2 in the statewide Governor’s Business Plan Challenge.

Other teams pitched ideas related to art, retail and hair care.

DragonGrips, a business that wants to produce pedal-powered heated handlebar grips for bikes, won second place in the graduate division. The same team recently took home the $2,500 people’s choice award at a startup contest hosted by the Greater Richmond Chamber.

For the first time this year, VCU alumni got to compete in the startup event. In a separate contest held Thursday at the Hippodrome Theater, 10 alumni had two minutes each to pitch their ideas.

Tribu, a company that makes flip-flops out of discarded tires, walked away with the $1,000 first-place prize during the alumni event. Brian Noon, Daniel Burch and Rob Burch represented Tribu.

A panel of local investors and entrepreneurs, including Tonya Mallory of Health Diagnostic Laboratories, Mike McGinley of New Dominion Angels and William Daughtrey of the Dominion Resources Innovation Center, judged the contest.

Health Diagnostic Laboratories, MeadWestvaco and Altria sponsored the Venture Creation Competition.

Here’s a full list of the student winners:


FreeMobility (1st place, $5,000) – A stair-climbing walker
Lumiform Tech (2nd place, $3,000) – A firm that creates art using light technology
RBazaar (3rd place, $2,000) – A market space for up-and-coming artists
UniversAssure (Finalist, $1,000 – An outdoor power equipment retailer
Tracks on Track (Finalist, $1,000) – A hair care tool


Skirbs (1st place, $5,000) – A customizable wristband
Backward Sprocket Mfg. Co (2nd place, $3,000) – A pedal-powered set of handlebar warmers
Second Showing (3rd place, $2,000) – A platform to distribute independent films
Artifact (Finalist, $1,000) – A company that sells socially responsible artwork
StraightThink (Finalist, $1,000) – A product design firm

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8 years ago

Very impressive stuff. Concerning the flip flops – I had a couple of pair of tire tread sandals back in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Nice to see the idea come back around.

Anna Ickes
Anna Ickes
8 years ago

UniversAssure is actually NOT an outdoor power equipment retailer, they are extended warranty and marketing company.

8 years ago

Do we know who the person was to submit the StraightThink product design firm? I have a product idea that I want to get to market but do not have the artistic talent to develop the prototype.