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Winemaking, catheters, locating lost gear and more: Idaho challenge gives entrepreneurs a boost

Aspiring Idaho entrepreneurs spent Thursday pitching their ideas to judges – looking for seed money and recognition.

The Idaho Entrepreneur Challenge takes place each spring, featuring teams of students with members of Idaho colleges. This year, instead of postponing the event in the wake of COVID19 — the entire daylong challenge went virtual.

“You are an example of innovation in action,” Boise State President Dr. Marlene Tromp said during a live show capping the competition. “Entrepreneurial thinking is more important now than it may have been before.”

Twenty-three teams competed in four tracks during the day: technology, healthcare, products and local services. Pitches happened remotely via Zoom, and the winners in each category pitched again for additional prizes, which was aired on the Boise State eSports Twitch channel.

Product

A Meridian pharmacist and one-time Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer teamed on a product to help outdoor enthusiasts solve a key problem. Get their lost gear back.

Aaron Akins and Robert Gillingham from Boise State worked together to found Karmik Outdoors. The concept would pair durable labels printed with a QR code with a backend system to help connect people with their lost items.

“There’s a problem plaguing the outdoor world: 88% of outdoorsman and women have lost equipment forever,” Gillingham, the former conservation officer, told judges.

“When people lose gear, there’s no good way of identifying the owner – that is until now,” Akins said. “When someone finds a lost item, they will scan the QR code which goes to our website. The owner’s contact information is provided or a private chat is initiated.”

The pair said they have trialed the idea by placing labels on gear — then intentionally “losing it.” They say about 75% of the gear made its way back into their hands.

“Our competition right now is the Sharpie,” Gillingham said – referring to writing your name and number with a marker on gear. “Our decals are way more durable than a marker.”

Customers would pay for the labels – and an annual fee to keep their accounts active.

Local Service

The winner in this category, Crib Coaching, hopes to simplify the learning process for childcare providers. The team from Boise State University wants to bring innovation to continuing education.

“We’re going to launch an online platform for continuing education for daycares,” co-founder Jill Berstein said during the pitch.

The idea would help simplify tracking, reporting and reimbursement of continuing education for workers in daycares. Crib Coaching hopes to start in Idaho, before expanding to other states.

“Once an employee has finished a course, we automatically notify the state and submit for reimbursement,” Berstein said.

Healthcare

A team of University of Idaho students hope to improve a common medical device: the catheter.

“The body combats urinary tract infections through urination,” co-founder Ed Hall said. “The problem comes when a catheter is inserted, blocking the normal flow of urine.”

Their product – CatheterX, would add a third channel to the typical medical catheter. It also adds another feature.

“The spiral design coming down the outside if the catheter really sets us apart from our competitors,” co-founder Olivia Esser said. ” We are patent pending and are working on our next phase of engineering.”

The CatheterX team hopes to add additional features to the product and bring innovation to the space – and help lower the number of infections.

Technology

A team made up of students from Boise State and Stanford University are working on a product that will help farmers boost efficiency and better understand their annual yield.

“Farming is gambling,” Terroir AI co-founder Phillip Rowe told the judges. “There’s only one time each year when a farmer knows their inventory: when they harvest.”

While aerial images and drones can help for crops that grow in rows, like lettuce, it can be tougher for crops that grow on trees or vines – like grapes.

“Farmers are still using traditional methods for counting their yield,” Rowe said. “That means going out into the field and counting their grape clusters for over a month early in the season.”

Those hand counts can vary wildly in their accuracy and are time-consuming to complete.

Terroir hopes to solve the problem for farmers who grow certain types of crops.

“We invented a computer vision system that mounts on an ATV. As you drive through the field, it counts grape clusters much faster than a farmer can by hand,” Rowe said.

Combining the imagery with artificial intelligence and an algorithm the product aims to give farmers better data – and in turn, a better chance of monetizing their crops.

The product is already in use on some vineyards in northern California, after demonstrations so impressed growers that they asked to get their product as quickly as possible.

The winner: CatheterX

During each pitch, a panel of judges asked questions of each team. After some virtual deliberation, they named CatheterX out of the University of Idaho the winner. The winner will get a cash prize, as well as several other benefits like a spot in this fall’s Boise Startup Week pitch competition.

Correction: An earlier version of this story transposed Akins’ and Gillingham’s quotes. It also incorrectly characterized the city where Akins works.

Don Day - BoiseDev editor
Don is the founder and publisher of BoiseDev. He is a National Edward R. Murrow Award winner and a Stanford University John S. Knight Fellow. Contact him at [email protected].

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