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Rewarding innovation

Mel Woodward Cup invests $35,000 in student entrepreneurs

By Susan White

Innovative business ideas related to health care, technology and ocean research won the top prizes at the 2019 Mel Woodward Cup (MWC) on March 28.

UnBound Chemicals, PolyUnity and Duff: Ocean Resources won $10,000 each during the business idea competition for student entrepreneurs at Memorial University.

The trio of companies were among eight teams that pitched their ideas to a panel of judges from the business community during the finals of the MWC, hosted by the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) at the Emera Innovation Exchange, Signal Hill Campus of Memorial University.

‘On the right path’

“Winning the Mel Woodward Cup is a validation that we’re on the right path,” said Blaine Edwards, a second-year master of science in management student at the Faculty of Business Administration who leads UnBound Chemicals.

“The reception of the project and support from everyone is really invigorating. It makes you want to push harder.”

UnBound Chemicals has developed a process to extract active pharmaceutical ingredients from medications and remarket the chemicals for non-human use and research. The group, which includes bachelor of engineering student Abis Abbas and Gerard Noseworthy of C-Core, targets unused and expired medications from patients and pharmacies, thereby preventing potentially dangerous chemicals from leaking into soil, groundwater and oceans once the medications have been discarded in landfills.

Another team exploring innovation in health care also won big.

Award-winning team

PolyUnity creates and distributes high-quality, validated 3D printed medical simulations. The technology can be purchased through an online database, providing medical professionals with access to the simulations anywhere in the world.

“We were thrilled [to win],” said co-founder Michael Bartellas, a fourth-year medical student at the Faculty of Medicine. “We are humbled and fortunate to be awarded the honour, support and resources.”

PolyUnity also includes medical student Travis Pickett and alumni Dr. Stephen Ryan (MD’18), Tahrin Maruf (BBA’17) and Marc-André Brien (B.Eng.’12). The group is also behind the award-winning MUN Med 3D, the first biomedical 3D printing facility in Newfoundland and Labrador, and Med 3D Network, the first global network of rural 3D printing biomedical sites.

The group plans to use the funding to develop its online database, the PolyBase.

Environmental solutions

The third winning team, Duff: Ocean Resources, is exploring ways to tackle a significant environmental challenge – the invasive green crab, which is negatively impacting biodiversity and native habitats for ocean species in North Atlantic oceans.

The company is trying to commercialize chitin, the second-most abundant polymer in the world, which  has a variety of biomedical and biotechnology purposes including water purification, wound healing and antibacterial agents.

“I could not be more happy with the results of the Mel Woodward Cup,” said Colton Etheridge, a fourth-year bachelor of business administration program student. “Everyone’s pitch was incredible, and the judges did an excellent job of evaluation and asking questions. We are thrilled to have these funds to leverage and move forward with our initiative.”

Duff: Ocean Resources also includes biochemistry student Joycelyn Moulton.

Honourable mentions

The MWC provides up to three prizes of $10,000 each to teams of Memorial University students, which may be used as seed funding to develop their innovative business ideas.

The winners also receive in-kind prizes related to legal, marketing, tax and professional development services from Genesis, KPMG, Altitude Media, Gardiner Centre, Perfect Day, Cox & Palmer and the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology Industries.

Two honourable mention prizes were also awarded. Prospre, engineering students Jonathan Young and Colin Hunt, won $3,000 and ECHARGES, engineering students Kheya Zaman and Sadman Rhythm, business student Mohammed Nabeel Hamdan, and science student Eti-Abbasi Umobong, won $2,000.

Entrepreneurial community growing

Florian Villaumé, director of MCE, says the centre has been working hard over the past year to help students discover entrepreneurship and plan for the competition.

“We’ve had more than 300 students attend at least one of our workshops over the past two semesters, with many of them then approaching us with innovative business ideas,” he said. “We’re very encouraged and excited by the growth that’s apparent in the Memorial University entrepreneurial community.”

Entrepreneurship, he says, offers students a chance to forge their own career paths.

“The Mel Woodward Cup is an opportunity to celebrate innovative business ideas, invest in the most promising ones, and create a pathway for the most entrepreneurial students at Memorial to stay in the province and build their businesses in a great community.”

Forty-three applications were received for the competition with eight finalists being chosen to present their business ideas to the panel of judges.

The MWC was created from a donation in 2017 by the family of the late Dr. Mel Woodward, a well-known entrepreneur who founded the Woodward Group of Companies. Peter, Melvin and Tana Woodward collectively donated $1.13 million to Memorial’s Faculty of Business Administration, in memory of their father, to support student entrepreneurs through the MCE.

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency also provided support for the competition and other entrepreneurship-focused initiatives at MCE.

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