The creative power of Georgia Tech’s undergraduate students was on full display at the third annual InVenture Prize finals.
Seven teams of inventors vied for the prize at the March event, which was televised live on Georgia Public Broadcasting from the Ferst Center. The teams each had three minutes to showcase their inventions before a panel of judges.
Several groups wore themed T-shirts and held signs to support the teams.
“We’re proud to be able to partner for the second straight year with GPB,” Georgia Tech President G. P. “Bud” Peterson said. “It’s an opportunity for young people to see science and technology and know it’s not boring.”
Numerous cameras were trained on the stage, which was decorated as if it were the set of a game show. Host Miles O’Brien started off the broadcast by referring to himself as “Ryan Geek-crest” and followed it up with a Charlie Sheen joke.
A quick video recapped the InVenture Prize process. Over the previous six months, several hundred entrants had been whittled down to 50 and finally to the seven finalists.
Judges were Sara Blakely, creator of Spanx shapewear; Greg Foster, ME 95, founder and CEO of BrightWhistle and a member of the Alumni Association board of trustees; Deborah Kilpatrick, ESM 89, MS ME 94, PhD ME 96, senior vice president of CardioDx; and David Phelps, ME 81, president and CEO of CreoSalus.
The finalists then took the stage to present their devices. Each took a different tack. The creators of Velociryder, a self-powered, two-wheeled skateboard, simply rode the device around the stage.
“Here’s how it works: You just ride it!” one team member shouted.
Roger Pincombe, a computer science major, won the inaugural InVenture Prize. He returned with a new invention, software that automatically generates online advertisements. Pincombe left a job at Microsoft to focus on the system.
Research scientist Bahareh Azizi, PhD Chem 05, served as a roving reporter during the show. After Pincombe’s presentation, she asked his mother what she did to foster her son’s creative interests.
“I think there’s power in pepperoni,” Pincombe’s mother responded. “He loved sliced pepperoni.”
One of the last presenters was Daniel Chaney, an industrial design major. Chaney stepped onto the stage with Brooks Tellekamp, an electrical engineering major. As Chaney spoke, Tellekamp began to play a guitar.
Chaney explained that guitar players often use either a slide or a capo, which is a small clamp placed on the neck of the guitar to create a different pitch. The two devices can only be used separately. Chaney designed and built the Slide-Capo, which combines the two and allows them to be used interchangeably.
“It gives you more flexibility than you’ve ever had to be more creative than you’ve ever been,” Chaney concluded.
Foster leaned forward in awe. “That was awesome,” he said.
As the judges convened to pick the two finalists, O’Brien interviewed the 2010 winner, Patrick Whaley, ME 10. Whaley created weighted sportswear that he recently began producing through his company, Titin. Whaley said the first production run already had sold out, and he credited the InVenture Prize with getting him started.
“It helped a lot, as much emotionally as monetarily,” Whaley said. “It let me know I was on the right track.”
Whaley then announced the winner of the 2011 People’s Choice Award, which was voted on through text messages and tweets by the audience. The winner was AutoRhexis, a team of biomedical engineering and mechanical engineering students who created a device to automate cataract surgery. They received $5,000.
Team member Chris Giardina, a biomedical engineering major, seemed more relieved than excited.
“We’ve all had three or four hours of sleep the last few nights,” he said.
The judges returned to the stage, and Blakely revealed that the two finalists were Slide-Capo and MAID, or Magnetically Assisted Intubation Device.
O’Brien allowed the tension to build before turning to Blakely to announce the winner.
“Everyone is a winner obviously, and you guys are incredible, but the winner is Slide-Capo,” she said.
Chaney let out a yell and raised his fist in triumph before taking hold of the InVenture Prize trophy.
“I mean, I was as confident as you could be,” Chaney said.
He received $15,000 and a U.S. patent filing by Georgia Tech’s Office of Technology Licensing. The MAID team members received $10,000.
Speaking after the event, Chaney said he knew going in that he faced long odds.
“It was intimidating to face teams whose products were solving major medical problems or featured high-level engineering,” he said. “I never counted myself out, because I knew my idea had what the judges were looking for: novelty, marketability and production readiness.”
To plan for the event, Chaney, who is graduating in May, first drafted a lengthy technical explanation of the device. But he said he realized it was too stuffy, so he recruited Tellekamp to join him on the stage.
Chaney said he’s considering his options for the Slide-Capo. He might sell the rights to an established business or sell the device himself.
He already has one client. After the event, Blakely asked if Chaney would build a Slide-Capo for her. She wanted it as a gift for her friend Ed Rowland, better known as the lead singer of Collective Soul.
“I was pretty thrilled,” Chaney said. “I’m working on getting that one built.”