Student's virtual reality startup idea garners top prize

Tim Krohn, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.
·5 min read

Apr. 13—MANKATO — A student-led startup business that hopes to develop a virtual reality experience to allow students access to specialized labs, testing equipment and simulations went away with the top prize Tuesday in the annual Big Ideas Challenge.

Tocco VR, headed by engineering student Jim Boyd, won $5,000 in the sixth annual new-venture competition sponsored by the Minnesota State University College of Business.

Hearing Glasses, with team members Abdelrahman Elkenawy (electrical engineering), Kaitlin Gloege (management information systems) and Alex Shepherd (computer information technology) took the $3,000 second place prize and were the winners of the High Tech Division, where they were awarded another $4,000.

Smart Bee Hives, with team members Sumit Mahajan (manufacturing engineering) and Abdelrahman Elkhatib (electrical engineering), took the $2,000 third place prize and won the Ag/Food/Beverage division, winning an additional $3,000. The team also took the People's Choice award, garnering another $2,000.

Gloege, CEO of Hearing Glasses, said they have been developing glasses that have the ability to hear someone speaking and display it as text on the lenses.

She said those who are deaf or hard of hearing are excluded from many social, spiritual, education and business experiences. "Often times we take hearing for granted ... Hearing Glasses offer equal opportunity for those who are deaf or hard of hearing."

Mahajan and Elkhatib are both fascinated with bees and said they have a passion for refining their system of an internet-based system to monitor the health of bees in an apiary. The system, they said, will give bee keepers real-time information that will help prevent the loss of apiaries.

Boyd said Tocco VR aims to allow remote students to access laboratories without being on a campus.

"Laboratory equipment is expensive, takes up a lot of floor space and is idle much of the time ... It can only be accessed by on-campus students so it excludes distant learners," Boyd said.

Yvonne Cariveau, director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at MSU, has coordinated the event for the past five years. She said the competition has spawned successful businesses.

"We've had 40 Big Ideas finalists now and over 17 of those businesses are running today with many employing others. The growth in confidence that these young people show as they work to research and develop an invention or business idea is pretty exciting to be a part of," she said.

"Whether this first business succeeds or fails, they learn from this process that they can do it, they can create organizations, they can make innovations and dreams happen."

Applications began being accepted in November and the students worked with local mentors on honing their business plans. There were three rounds of judging prior to Tuesday's virtual awards ceremony.

The finalists in the Big Ideas Challenge and their business plans:

Tocco VR

The business idea is to create a virtual reality experience that allows students access to specialized labs, testing equipment and interaction with complex system simulations. Other content can also be accessed remotely, such as industry tours and professional engineering profiles. With a focus on engineering education, learning tracks can be customized to enable individual learning goals and styles.

Downed Duck

Psychology student Jaden Klingenberg developed a remote-controlled boat used for retrieving ducks off the water for hunters after they shoot them. It is used when the ducks are in the middle of a body of water and difficult to retrieve. He made two prototype boats.

Smart Bee Hives

The business idea is to design a Internet of Things based solution to monitor the health of bees in an apiary. The device will include sensors that record temperature, humidity, weight, and frequencies in the beehives. Bee farmers can receive real-time data that will allow them to immediately deal with any circumstance demanded by their apiaries' conditions. They would use a radio-frequency identification to tag a queen bee and monitor them separately.

The FoodPack Group

Applied leadership student Patti Radford developed The FoodPack Group, an association for organizations that operate backpack food programs. FoodPack is a mission-driven organization that uses the power of group purchasing to offer a more cost-effective and efficient solution to member organizations.

The organization will operate as both a purchasing co-op and central coordinator for these organizations.

Smart Kart

Abi Saha, an accounting and business management student, invented Smart Kart, an electronic shopping cart to provide customers assistance while shopping and reducing lines at checkout. It saves time of customers by guiding them to where the product is in a store and provides information and reviews about the product. More convenient checkout options are available as customers can scan the barcode on the cart itself and pay through the app or swipe the card in the card reader space on the Smart Kart.

Hearing Glasses LLC

The business idea is to further develop glasses designed for people with hearing disabilities. Hearing Glasses will have the ability to hear someone speaking and display as text on the lenses. Those with the glasses will have the capacity to talk to everyone, not just those who know sign language.

Competition support

The $19,000 in prize money and promotional help was provided by Lloyd Companies, Jones Metal, BankVista, MN Valley Business Magazine, Daren & Sarah Cotter, Launch Minnesota Southwest and All American Foods.

Judges were: Craig and Pat Lloyd, Lloyd Companies; Bron Scherer, Protein Sources; Sarah Richards, Jones Metal; Christine Lantinen, Maud Borup; Tyler Snitker, All American Foods.