Approximately 2.9 million non-fatal occupational injuries occurred in 2015, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics – accumulating millions of dollars in treatment costs. However, three Auburn University graduate students believe they can help.
Rong Huangfu and Harbert College graduate student Mengdie Chen from China, and Robert Granzow, from Camp Hill, Pa., created BioErgo Solutions, a bio-ergonomic device that uses wearable technology and body sensors that captures data when workers are subject to awkward postures or repetitive motions – risk factors for injuries. The team wowed a panel of industry professional judges and won the third annual Tiger Cage business pitch competition, presented by the Harbert College of Business, on March 31.
“Companies are trying to bring in new technologies, but do not have the experience to deal with the data,” said Huangfu, a graduate student in industrial engineering whose team was awarded $10,000, and legal assistance provided by the California-based law firm of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. The winners will also receive space at the Auburn Business Incubator. “Our product will provide the solution from hardware to software and generate information that is ready for companies to use. We believe this will be the future in occupational injury prevention.”
Tiger Cage began in the fall with dozens of teams and was eventually whittled to four finalists after numerous rounds of competition. The finalists each made five-minutes pitches before judges at the Auburn University Hotel and Dixon Conference Center, then took questions.
Second-place went to Soleline, a footwear storage and display solution designed by sophomore engineering major Gibson Wang, junior electrical engineering major Berk Anadur and junior business administration major Frank Nguyen (all from Auburn, Ala.). The team was awarded $6,000 and also earned $500 more by winning the People’s Choice Award, as voted on by the audience.
Michael Minkler, a chemical engineering doctoral student from Brookfield, Mo., and Vlad Saveljeus, an MBA student from Chattanooga, Tenn., were awarded $4,000 and took third place for Honey Do, a peer-to-peer mobile app that enables individuals engaged in custom projects to find help locally and nationally.
Trent Briden, a sophomore in finance and piano performance from St. Louis, took fourth place and $2,000. He created Senior Solutions, an online platform focused on retirement community entertainment.
“I was super-impressed with the quality of all four teams,” said Cameron Doody, co-founder of moving company Bellhops, who served as one of four final judges. “When I look at an early-stage startup, I think the most important thing is the team. The second-most important thing is market size and opportunity. The winners clearly had the largest market opportunity. They were the most focused and relevant team to the problem they were solving and they were a little bit further along than some of the other companies.”
Other judges included Erin Inman, President and CEO at Primera Engineers; Steve Poorman, business owner and consultant; and Thomas Stroud, Online Banking Coordinator at Regions Bank.
“Winning the Tiger Cage competition is a remarkable accomplishment for our team, especially given the high bar set by our competitors,” said Granzow, who is seeking his masters in industrial engineering. “After each round of competition, we reworked each slide, taking into account feedback provided by the judges for improvements, forcing us to work together and become a stronger team.”
Chen, who is seeking an MBA and masters in finance at the Harbert College of Business, was the Tiger Cage’s first female finalist. “This was a great experience to put what I’ve learned from business school into practice,” she said. “The business theories and cases suddenly came alive and became a great tool to guide me thoroughly about our business. The Tiger Cage made me crave for more business knowledge and gave me a better understanding of real-world businesses.”
There’s another story to Chen and Huangfu – they are married. “This project definitely brought us closer,” Huangfu said. “We rarely have the chance to work on a project as teammates.”
Chen added, “Working together as husband and wife is a great memory for us. Working together makes us know more about each other and become better at dealing with differences between men and women. Trust and respect are key to business partners – and couples.”