Thursday, July 25, 2024

LSUS’s Pilot Pitch business competition winners span environmental science, medical fields

by BIZ Magazine

SHREVEPORT – The winners of LSUS’s Pilot Pitch competition have the potential to not just impact their respective industries, but to change those industries altogether. 

A total of eight finalists in two divisions presented their business ideas Monday as part of Pilot Pitch, a competition in which students discuss their business plan in front of a panel of judges for cash prizes. 

Dakota Ferry won the undergraduate division with his presentation “Canngraphene,” a company that is searching to manufacture a versatile substance called graphene more cheaply.  

Tara Lauther took home the graduate division title with her presentation “Tag It,” a product that is designed to electronically manage hospital and pharmacy medications to reduce medical errors and manage medicine inventory. 

Ferry, who has already gained a patent on his graphene manufacturing process, said his company can manufacture the valuable powdery substance using hemp-derived acid. 

“Because of graphene’s unique properties, it has myriad uses in our physical world,” said Ferry, an applied physics major. “It’s lightweight, has incredibly high tensile strength and has extreme thermal and electrical conductivity. 

“It can be used in everything from textiles, construction and in electronics like medical devices. It also has the potential to deal with numerous crises in our world like water and ground pollution, the energy crisis and other environmental crises.” 

Graphene can currently be produced, but the substance costs anywhere from $60,000 to $200,000 per ton, making the carbon-based material prohibitively costly to use on a large scale in most cases. 

But Ferry said his process of manufacturing graphene using acid derived from hemp is cheaper and more energy-friendly than producing graphene by other available methods. 

Ferry projects that he could manufacture graphene at $25,000/ton once he secures an industrial facility. 

His favorite application of graphene is in water filtration, which can remove virtually all impurities from water. 

Competition judge Mike Woods, an LSUS Foundation board member who operates an oil and gas business, chimed in that water byproduct from fracking is an industry challenge. Any solution that could clean this water byproduct would make somebody a “bazillionaire.” 

Lauther, an LSUS graduate student in the Master of Health Administration program, is combining already available technology to better track medical facilities’ supplies of medicine. 

Her “Tag It” product would use radio frequency identification tags (smart barcodes) that can be read by an RFID scanner, which medical facilities already have. 

“There is no electronic system in place that tracks medications in hospitals, pharmacies or urgent care centers,” Lauther said. “Some medication is perishable and does expire, so there’s a need to efficiently track these medicines. 

“It’s incredibly labor-intensive to manually sort through medication, and it increases the risk for medical error such as administering expired drugs or to order too much or too little of specific medicines. Tag It can reduce human errors, manage inventory, reduce waste and improve patient safety.” 

Lauther is already acquiring tags from a supplier and developing software to be used in tandem with the physical tags. 

The winners received a $3,000 cash prize, a $500 credit to use with LSUS Continuing Education and six months’ worth of services from the Entrepreneurial Accelerator Program (EAP). 

EAP, a northwest Louisiana organization that helps launch and mentor small businesses, collaborates with LSUS to orchestrate the competition. 

Students submit a business idea toward the beginning of the semester and receive one-on-one guidance from LSUS and EAP mentors as well as participate in workshops to develop their business plan. 

“There’s a tremendous amount of support and coordination that is required from a number of people,” said Dr. Mary Lois White, dean of the LSUS College of Business. “It wouldn’t be possible without our mentors, our judges, EAP and the LSUS Foundation among a host of others.” 

“We approached students of all disciplines across campus to submit a spark of an idea … and this process would help develop the idea. We believe in the value of experiential learning, and this is a campus-wide initiative to provide assistance in the development of a business plan not only for business students but students of all majors.” 

The competition awarded prizes to the top three competitors in each division. 

In the undergraduate division, Royal Toussant took second place while Cardell Hardman won third. 

Toussant’s Playground Entertainment seeks to help K-Pop artists break into markets in the Western hemisphere by providing more transparent business practices than currently exist. 

Hardman’s Rite Now Loans aims to provide more transparent lending practices to underserved communities. 

In the graduate division, Sharada Damaraju captured the runner-up prize with Valerie Lopez taking third place. 

Damaraju’s Dignity company will produce textured, glow-in-the dark covers for call bells designed to assist patients with visual or mental impairments in medical care facilities. Patients often complain of hard-to-find call bells, which can result in a delay of pain medication or other services. 

Lopez’s Parenting Innovations company developed a prototype for grocery cart seat covers that better serve infants and toddlers than products currently on the market. 

Second-place finishers receive a $1,000 cash prize with EAP assistance and a $500 LSUS Continuing Education credit. 

Third-place competitors receive a $500 cash prize along with the aforementioned benefits. 

A total of 37 LSUS students submitted business ideas with 17 students completing the business plan process. 

Finalists are eligible to compete in regional competitions this spring such as the Pelican Cup at ULM ($50,000 grand prize) and the Arkansas Governor’s Cup. 

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