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Eyes on the Prize

BU students compete in $50K New Venture Competition

Juan Pablo Gnecco, Daniel Gnecco, Kontrol TV

Daniel Gnecco (SMG’12) (right), who founded KontrolTV with his father, Juan Pablo Gnecco, is a finalist in today’s $50K New Venture Competition. Photo courtesy of Daniel Gnecco

Like any entrepreneur with an idea for a start-up, Daniel Gnecco dreams of scoring a 15-minute meeting with a venture capitalist. Tonight, his dream becomes reality.

Gnecco (SMG’12) is one of four finalists in BU’s annual $50K New Venture Competition. Beginning at 6 p.m., each will have 20 minutes to pitch his company to a panel of Boston venture capitalists. The winner will receive $50,000 in services and cash. But win or lose, Gnecco says, the real prize is getting facetime with prominent members of the Boston business community.

“To have some of Boston’s most well-known people in industry validate your ideas will raise everybody’s eyebrows and generate interest,” says Gnecco. “That interest can turn into investments.”

The contest, now in its 12th year, is sponsored by BU’s Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship and Commercialization (ITEC). Created to encourage students to write business plans for their start-up companies, it is open to current full- and part-time graduate and undergraduate BU students, as well as all alumni who have graduated within the past 10 years.

“The beauty of having teams write a business plan for the contest is that they learn how to write one; they go through all the thinking that goes into it,” says Beth Goldstein, ITEC senior associate for distance learning, who is in charge of the competition. “Winner or not, they can take the lessons learned from writing a business plan and go and run another company.”

This year’s finalists, selected from 34 entrants, have started companies in life sciences, clean energy, mobile applications, and medical devices, “all cutting-edge industries,” says Goldstein.

Diego Torres-Palma’s start-up, City Fuel Company, is a small-scale renewable fuel technology company that promises to put the state at the leading edge of renewable energy and transportation technology. Its technology can convert new and used vegetable oils into fuels and chemicals. Torres-Palma (GSM’13) founded the company with recent MIT graduate Matthew Pearlson. Together, the two launched OoOTie Boston Bow Ties, a limited edition online bow tie company, in 2010.

NeXGen Arrays, a start-up helmed by Sunmin Ahn (ENG’12), aims to save biotech companies time and money by improving microarrays, the thousands of tiny spots on a glass slide that allow researchers to conduct experiments on thousands of samples at once. NeXGen’s design allows fabrication of microarray readers at a fraction of the cost of those now on the market. Supporting team members are George Daaboul (ENG’13), Alex Reddington (ENG’13), Margo Monroe (ENG’13), Philipp Spuhler (ENG’12), David Freedman (ENG’10), and Carlos Lopez (ENG’07).

“We are a group of engineers, and it has been great to talk to businesspeople about a start-up,” Ahn says. “We lack the expertise to be able to analyze markets, understand revenue models, and things of that nature.”

Another finalist, Stabiliz Orthopaedics, focuses on developing innovative medical devices for the treatment of traumatic bone fractures. The company was started in 2008 by Michael Adelizzi (ENG’02), whose supporting team members are Douglas Cerynik and Bradley Grossman. The company’s lead product is a hybrid metallic-resorbable plate and screw system that they say allows surgeons to customize the healing process, eliminate the need for future surgeries, and reduce overall health care costs.

Gnecco started his company, KontrolTV, with his father, Juan Pablo Gnecco, and Alan Queen, an engineer from Gnecco’s hometown of Atlanta. The company’s mission is to design an application that would make it possible to use a mobile phone like a television remote control, allowing the user to find and launch TV listings. The application would also make it possible to see what your friends are watching on TV in real time. So far, Gnecco has landed $50,000 in seed money from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

“Ours is a big vision, basically changing the way people use a TV,” Gnecco says. “If we win, to have important people on board with our idea, that would be a big deal.”

Registration is required to attend tonight’s final round of the $50K New Venture Competition, which will be held at 6 p.m. in SMG’s fourth floor dining room, 595 Commonwealth Ave. Refreshments will be served at 5:30 p.m. Register here.

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Amy Sutherland can be reached at alks@bu.edu.

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