UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School


Nascent technologies, new business ideas move forward in Launching the Venture


A fresh crop of innovative thinkers are developing new business ideas after being selected for the feasibility phase of Launching the Venture (LTV), UNC's premier venture-creation program designed to empower entrepreneurial teams at UNC to launch commercial businesses and social ventures.

"It is really exciting to teach in front of a classroom full of individuals representing every corner of the university with such a wide variety of creative ideas," said Patrick Vernon, adjunct professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School, who serves as administrator and co-instructor for the program.

The 24 teams participating in the 2011 LTV program represent a broad range of fields, from medical services and biomedical research to educational services, gaming, software development, environmental and consumer goods. They are marketing a variety of products and services, including:

  • Gaming platforms (Wii, Move, Kinect) that deliver exercise programs to prevent falls in older adults.
  • A system to measure real-time impact of air pollution on human health.
  • A customized grocery product and store routing recommendation engine with an in-store kiosk interface.
  • A method for turning residential and commercial food waste into compost to resell.
  • Realistic sound synthesis and propagation for video games, architectural acoustics and large-scale acoustics simulation.
  • Non-hormonal male contraception for humans and wildlife.
  • Technology that can predict which patients and body sites will develop metastatic disease.

"I am a physical therapist by training and a research scientist," said participant Tiffany Shubert. Her venture, Exergames for Healthy Aging, creates a virtual health coach for aging adults through gaming platforms. "I am taking the LTV class to learn how to convert my idea into a meaningful product. I started without any background in business, and the class has been exceptionally helpful," says Shubert, a researcher at the UNC Center for Aging and Health.

Ph.D. student Lakulish Antani said: "I'm working on a technology venture based on the research I've done along with my colleagues at the Department of Computer Science. I find the practical, no-nonsense approach of the course to be immensely valuable to any first-time entrepreneur. It's not based on hindsight or anecdotes. It gives you the tools you need when launching a venture and the training on how to use them."

Antani's team is working on Sound Tools, a system for realistic sound synthesis and propagation for video games, architectural acoustics and large-scale acoustics simulation.

Coaching expertise is invaluable part of LTV experience

During this second phase of LTV, each team is assigned an experienced business professional to provide first-hand expertise and mentoring. Faculty members, MBA students and successful professionals from throughout the community serve as coaches. They include legal professionals, financial consultants, corporate executives and entrepreneurs.

"It is a testament to the business school's commitment to education when these coaches are willing to volunteer their time to help non-business-savvy folks like myself bring an exciting idea to market," said William Vizuete, assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering.

"The class has provided me with the guidance and mentoring needed to traverse the strange and sometimes incomprehensible world of marketing, allowing me to bridge science and business," Vizuente said.

Vizuete's venture is an electrostatic aerosol in vitro exposure system (EAVES) device that measures the real-time impact of air pollution on human health.

Scienctific teams bring multi-disciplinary approach to program

Seven scientific teams participating in the program are trying a new approach to technology commercialization.

"What's different about this year is that it's the first time we've put together multi-disciplinary teams of law students, MBA students, Ph.D.s and post-docs from the sciences to work together," said Don Rose, director of Carolina KickStart, a program of the UNC-based N.C. Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute. Rose teaches the medical components of the LTV program.

The scientific teams are working to develop businesses for technologies where there is currently little faculty interest in starting a company. "The idea is to take nascent technology which has been difficult to license to established companies, usually because it is too early in its development, and have the teams work on possible commercial opportunities in the context of a startup company. Our hope is that we can bring the faculty and/or entrepreneurs into the fold and launch some companies," said Rose.

LTV is a four-part series of courses covering, opportunity recognition, feasibility, business planning and financing for new business ventures. Teams may comprise any mix of students, faculty and staff at UNC.

Launching the Venture is offered jointly by the UNC Kenan-Flagler's Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, UNC Office of Technology Development and N.C. Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute with support from the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise.

For more information, visit www.launch.unc.edu or contact co-instructor Patrick Vernon at the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, or (919) 962-9257.