Robert J. Trulaske Sr., College of Business, University of Missouri

MU Student Entrepreneurs Win NASA Award

A graduate student team sponsored by the University of Missouri Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business has won a $20,000 NASA prize for its plan to commercialize an innovative surgical instrument. MU's team consisted of Xandra Sifuentes, a second-year student in the college's Crosby MBA program, and Brad Snow, an MU mechanical engineering doctoral student.

The duo earned a NASA Earth/Space Engineering Innovation award during the Rice University Business Plan Competition held April 15-17 in Houston, Texas. The three-day event brought together 42 teams of top graduate-student entrepreneurs from across the country to compete for more than $1 million in cash and prizes. Teams made 15-minute business plan presentations, competing for a grand prize that included an equity investment, cash, and business services, a grand prize valued at about $385,000.

MU's venture, Adroit Motion LLC, pitched a laparoscopic medical device that won top honors last December at the MU Show-Me Business Plan Competition. The NASA prize recognizes proposals that include engineering technology deemed applicable to both the NASA space program and Earth, along with a commercialization plan for the Earth-based application. The team's presentations about the innovative instrument, which is still in an early stage of development, won two additional awards besides the NASA prize: the Pearland Economic Development Corporation's $3,500 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award and a $600 third-place Shark Tank award.

The awards provided the Adroit Motion team's morale a welcome shot in the arm. "Getting that feedback from NASA and other investors confirms for us the value of our device," Sifuentes said. Sifuentes and Snow plan to use the $24,100 they earned in prize money to build a prototype of their laparoscopic instrument.

While Snow has been working for months on a computer model of the device, Adroit Motion has lacked the financing to convert those plans into a physical model to show to potential investors, Sifuentes said. "This prize will help us move toward a complete prototype," she said.

Sifuentes said the team aims to have a working prototype very soon in order to seek and secure the investment required to launch the company by July.