WorkSphere, creators of a smartphone app that gives employers the ability to manage communication, accountability and productivity on one device, bested 20 other University of Arizona McGuire Entrepreneurship Program student startup teams to win the grand prize and $10,000 at the McGuire New Venture Competition and Showcase on April 29. The 21 student startup teams presented their innovative new ventures in a rapid-fire rocket pitch competition and trade show. With more than $50,000 in cash and prizes on the line, the stakes were high and the excitement even higher.
“We went from not knowing what we were going to do at the beginning of the year, to knowing exactly what we’re going to do now,” said Daniel Dicochea, CEO of WorkSphere, which also took home the Best in Class Award, the Eller Entrepreneurship Outstanding Team Award, and a StageXchange award. “All the winnings today will be put directly to development. We have potential investors and potential customers but nothing happens without a fully developed product.”
The 2016 McGuire NVC was the culmination of a year of hard work for the McGuire Program students, who receive a year of intensive experiential education that engages them in the process of moving innovation from an early-stage idea to a sustainable investor-ready venture. The cohort-based immersive program is an offering of the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship, which is housed in the Eller College of Management, but the McGuire Program is open to UA undergraduate and graduate students from all fields of study. This past academic year, more than 80 students teamed up to develop 21 new ventures, which included a wearable 3D camera and virtual reality social media platform, a drone app marketplace, biometric security systems, neurological therapeutics, interactive educational apps, and much more.
“The McGuire New Venture Competition is a signature event here at Eller,” said McGuire Center Executive Director Joseph P. Broschak. “Our McGuire Program students have worked so hard for the past year to transform 21 early-stage innovative ideas into viable ventures, and it’s so gratifying to watch them pitch their polished ideas to a panel of industry experts and investors.”
Five successful business and entrepreneurship leaders from across the country with experience in technology innovation, startups, finance, business management and philanthropic endeavors evaluated the student teams. (Meet the judges.) The first round was a rapid-fire rocket pitch competition with each of the 2016 McGuire Program new venture teams giving a three-minute presentation. The judges invited six teams to return for the second round to present a more detailed five-minute pitch and engage in five minutes of Q&A before they chose the top three award winners. The six finalists were:
- Defiiant Technologies, which introduces an immersive, 3D social media experience through its mobile virtual reality app and Vidi, its wearable VR camera.
- Jupitar, a smarter, faster drone app development software and app store.
- Park Central, a parking brokerage service that links city drivers with private landowners.
- ROVR, a mobile app for discovering new friends, casual dates or something more serious wherever you are.
- TheraCea Pharma, which develops therapeutics for the more than one billion people who suffer from neurological disorders.
- WorkSphere, which improves employee accountability, communication and productivity while reducing costs with secure and user-friendly mobile management software.
ROVR won Second Place and $5,000, and Defiiant Technologies won Third Place and $2,500.
Partner organizations also provided prizes for teams serious about launching their new ventures in Tucson. These are all excellent resources that can help enable startups to make significant advances toward successful launches. (Meet our partners.)
- Connect Coworking awarded six months of office space to Bailiwic ($11,600 value)
- StageXchange awarded dealbook setup to WorkSphere, Wherdugo, and Defiiant Technologies ($12,000 value)
- Startup Tucson awarded admission into the Thryve Startup incubator program, 10 10West Passports including IdeaFunding tickets, and 6 months of desk space at CoLab Workspace to WorkSphere and Defiiant Technologies($8,400 value).
“The New Venture Competition has played a pivotal role in many past teams’ decisions to launch,” said Broschak. “It’s rewarding to see how the McGuire Program not only helps students develop an entrepreneurial mindset and a viable business plan, it can also give students the confidence and resources necessary to launch their new venture.”
“When you have judges and a program that believes in you, it definitely keeps you motivated to keep going,” said Dicochea, a business management and entrepreneurship double major. “I can’t say it enough: thank you to the McGuire Program and the mentors, they built us up as individuals and they build us up as a company, and we’re absolutely ready for the next step because of them.”
While the judges and partners chose the winners for many prizes, audience members were invited to weigh in on the People’s Choice Award. TheraCea Pharma received the most votes and won the People's Choice Award and $1,000. The McGuire Program teams also selected a winner for the Best In Class Award, which went to WorkSphere with $1,000. The Eller Entrepreneurship Outstanding Team Award also went to WorkSphere.
This year, several University of Arizona and McGuire Program alumni participate in the event as judges or event partners:
- Judge Matt Williams, whose first startup was acquired by Amazon in 1999 and who raised $17.5 million in funding for his most recent new venture, Pro.com, is a 1993 graduate of the McGuire Program.
- Judge Christopher McGuire, the Vice-President of Programs and Director of the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, is a UA graduate
- Judge Mike Chadwick, who has over 20 years of technology, finance and business management experience, 11 issued patents and multiple patents pending, has an undergraduate degree in Computer Science.
- StageXchange, a customizable platform used by developers and entrepreneurs to manage their deal’s lifecycle, was co-founded by 1999 McGuire Program graduate Rick Yngve, who is also a McGuire Center lecturer.
- Cravory Cookies, a 2008 McGuire New Venture Competition finalist, will provide cookies at the reception.
“We’re delighted that alumni want to participate in our events and engage with our current students,” Broschak said. “It says a lot about the quality of a program when its graduates want to give back.”