Blazer Innovation Challenge student winners announced in “Shark Tank”-style competition

Three students have been awarded funding to pursue innovative ideas.
Written by: Justin Marden
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blazer innovation challenge 2017Finalist Haifa AlHarrasi and teammate present their idea for the "Pocket Mechanic" mobile app to the judges. University of Alabama at Birmingham students with innovative business concepts were awarded $8,500 to pursue and promote their ideas in the second annual Blazer Innovation Challenge.

The challenge promotes student entrepreneurship and innovative ideas that can solve existing product, service or process problems. The Collat School of Business and UAB Innovation Lab (iLab) hosted the event sponsored by IBERIABANK at Innovation Depot. The five competition finalists presented their ideas to a panel of Birmingham business leaders at the iLab.

Venu Kunche, a senior majoring in computer science and minoring in entrepreneurship and member of the UAB Honors College’s Global and Community Leadership Honors Program, took the first-place prize for his proposal to create a nutrition bar based on the moringa plant. Kunche’s pitch contended that the moringa, which is native to India and parts of other Asian countries, provides far more nutritional value than many of the ingredients currently used in nutrition bars. His product could provide consumers with the nutrients they need in a bar that tastes good as well. Kunche plans to use the $5,000 prize to conduct market research for the moringa bar.

Heath Jackson, a senior double-majoring in industrial distribution and marketing, took home the second-place prize of $2,500 for his proposed distributive business model for microbreweries. Jackson’s model would allow brewers to lease a space and equipment to brew beer for distribution.  

blazer innovation 2Blazer Innovation Challenge judges (top row) stand with the 2017 finalists.The third-place, $1,000 prize went to Owen Stallworth, a psychology and philosophy double major who proposed a franchise business model for mental health professionals. Stallworth hopes his model will solve the debt crisis facing many new mental health clinicians by allowing them to lease a space for private practice.

In addition to prize money, winners will continue to benefit from valuable mentoring, coaching and other iLab resources to help incubate their ideas and potentially launch startup companies throughout the 2017-18 academic year.

“At UAB, we are really serious about taking intellectual property and turning it into new businesses,” said Eric P. Jack, Ph.D., dean of the Collat School of Business. “We want to take these great ideas, including our students’ ideas, and use them to innovate. If you’re a student who has an idea to start a business, we want to help you do that. It truly is learning in the 21st century.”

The competition winners will present their progress to school and business leaders in spring 2018.

The other two finalists, Briannah Smith and Haifa AlHarrasi, presented business pitches to create an “Ecology” mobile app to incentivize recycling and a “Pocket Mechanic” mobile app to diagnose car problems and estimate repair costs, respectively.