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StemTech Wins UC Davis Business Plan Competition

May 19, 2005

Photo: man talking at podium

Jeff Norris of StemTech, a postdoctoral at the UC Davis Center for Biostabilization, is the brainchild of the technology and also a Graduate School of Management Business Development Program fellow. (Neil Michel/Axiom Photo and Design)

A biotechnology company with an innovative approach to improving the storage and therapeutic effects of human stem cells used to treat cancer patients has won $10,000 in a business plan competition at the University of California, Davis.

StemTech of Davis won first place in the fifth annual Big Bang! Business Plan Competition, designed by MBA students at the Graduate School of Management to promote entrepreneurship, innovation and hands-on learning.

StemTech is commercializing a patent-pending technology developed at the UC Davis Center for Biostabilization. The technology improves on current methods of cryogenic storage -- using a chemical process to quickly deep-freeze cord blood stem cells that are used at public and private storage banks. The company seeks to make stored stem cells as therapeutically effective as fresh stem cells, drastically reducing the time it takes for the stem cell therapies -- routinely used to treat leukemia and certain lymphomas -- to work.

Team members are MBA students Pej Azarm, Chris Arian and Chris Zobrist; and postdoctoral researcher Jeff Norris and doctoral candidate Kara Schmelzer, both fellows in a new certificate program in business development.

"This validates everything we have been working on for the past several months and gives us the support and inspiration to continue with the venture and truly take this company to a commercial realization," said Azarm, who helped present details of StemTech's business plan.

A panel of nine judges, mostly venture capitalists and entrepreneurs from the Sacramento region and the Bay Area, selected the first- and second-place winners. Results were announced at a campus event Wednesday evening.

"StemTech did a particularly good job of clearly explaining the economic benefits of their technology," said competition judge Jim Jones of BA Venture Partners in Foster City, which invests in early-stage life sciences and diagnostics start-ups.

"It's also very topical with Proposition 71 and $3 billion for stem cell research poised to flow," Jones added. "There's a lot of interest in technology such as this that can support the research."

Second place and $3,000 was awarded to All Best Materials, which has developed a solar energy technology for creating solar cells that it says are far smaller, lighter, more powerful, and more versatile than any on the market today. The technology is applicable to a variety of uses, ranging from solar mobile phones to large-scale energy production.

Team members are alumni John and Brian Argo; Ruxandra Vidu, a former UC Davis researcher; doctoral candidate Jie-Ren Ku; and engineering professor Pieter Stroeve.

Boegeskov (pronounced BEHR-skoh) Energy of Davis won the People's Choice award and $2,000 as the audience's favorite after a second round of presentations Wednesday evening. The company is developing a catalyst-enhancing material that it says will significantly reduce the cost and improve the overall efficiency of fuel cells for vehicles and other potential applications ranging from forklifts to cell phones. When applied to the membrane of a fuel cell, its Catalyst Enhancing Polymers will use less of the costly platinum catalyst needed. These novel and highly porous materials will also improve cell durability and may allow the use of ethanol as a fuel.

Team members are doctoral candidates Kenth Pedersen, Matthew Caldwell and Daniel Scott; MBA student Derek Larsen; law student Andy Berk; Frank Parker; Richard Sklar; and Nico Bouwkamp.

StemTech is now eligible -- and the two other winners could be selected as wildcards -- to compete against winners of other business plan competitions in the first Draper Fisher Jurvetson Venture Challenge for $250,000 in seed stage funding. The competition, organized by the parent company of one of Big Bang!'s sponsors, will be held June 2 in Mountain View, Calif.

StemTech has also been offered incubator space at West Sacramento's Technology Development Center, a business accelerator managed by The Soderquist Group, one of Big Bang!'s sponsors.

The three other Big Bang! finalists were:

  • RidePal, which is building a ridesharing program for commuters. The network enables users traveling the same route to easily find each other using cell phones and Internet technology. Team members are graduate students Kevin Eslinger and Darius Roberts; MBA student Rakesh Gupta; Jonathan Weinert, a doctoral candidate and fellow in the certificate program in business development; and Jordan Rule.
  • Biosec of Davis, an early stage biotechnology company that develops new tests for detecting diseases in animals, agricultural products and humans. Team members are Candice Cook, a research associate with the Center for Biophotonics, Science and Technology at UC Davis; and MBA student Brian Woodall.
  • PetSense, which is designing and marketing a patent-pending pet collar that uses radio frequency identification technology to teach pets to keep away from specific objects or locations. It will also license the technology to other companies. Team members are doctoral student Joel Koshy and MBA students Anthony Chen, Sergey Gerasimov, Logan Browne and Gerhard Prottung.

Jacob Rivera, an MBA student and chair of the competition, said, "The finalists this year truly embodied the goals of the Big Bang! All six teams represent a partnership between our MBA students and leading UC Davis scientists and researchers in the fields of biotech, alternative energy and information technology.

"With so many high-caliber plans pulled through this year's pipeline," Rivera added, "Big Bang! and the Graduate School of Management remain committed to carrying the entrepreneurial torch, both on campus and in the Sacramento region."

After the competition's launch in November, students from the management school organized a series of workshops to help competitors craft business plans based on marketable ideas. Topics ranged from protecting intellectual property to analyzing competition.

From among 13 teams that submitted executive summaries of their business plans and 15 participants in a poster competition, 12 qualifiers were asked to submit complete business plans in early April. After a review of the business plans, six teams were selected to make 12-minute presentations before judges Wednesday afternoon and a second eight-minute presentation before a public audience at the evening event.

Throughout the competition, judges were asked to evaluate the summaries, plans and presentations as they would for ventures funded by their firms. In addition to Jones of BA Venture Partners, the final judging panel included Roger Akers of Akers Capital in Fair Oaks; Scott Lenet of DFJ Frontier in West Sacramento; Ilkan Cokgor of American River Ventures in Roseville; Kevin Coyle of DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary in Sacramento; Tom Woiwode of Versant Ventures in Menlo Park; Gary Simon of Sigma Energy Group in Davis; and Pete Bernardoni of Technology Funding in El Dorado Hills. Professor Andrew Hargadon of the management school served as moderator.

About 45 firms provided financial sponsorship or their representatives led workshops, groomed the teams or judged the competition.

Major sponsors include DLA Piper Rudnick Gray Cary, the UC Davis Medical Center and Versant Ventures. Other sponsors include BA Venture Partners, DFJ Frontier, Fenwick & West, FedEx Kinko's, Akers Capital, American River Ventures, Sigma Energy Group, The Soderquist Group and the Associated Students of Management at UC Davis.

For more information on the competition, visit http://bigbang.gsm.ucdavis.edu/.

Established in 1981, the UC Davis Graduate School of Management provides management education to nearly 400 students enrolled in Daytime MBA and Working Professional MBA programs on the UC Davis campus, in Sacramento, and beginning this fall in the San Francisco Bay Area. It offers an undergraduate minor in technology management and a certificate program in which doctoral science students work with MBA students to develop skills to commercialize research.

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