UConn’s Innovation Quest Bringing New Ideas to Marketplace

Graduate nursing student Samantha Nesbeth wants to find a way to use genetics, instead of hair transplants, to help men and women regrow thinning hair.

Meanwhile, Peter Vannorsdall, a sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering, has created a device that helps get young children to wear their seatbelts. He has a functioning prototype but needs help taking the next step.

Nesbeth and Vannorsdall are among 200 UConn students who participated in the University’s 2016 Innovation Quest (iQ), seeking advice, encouragement and mentoring from experts in new-business development.

Now in its fifth year at UConn, iQ is an innovation competition and startup incubator to help student entrepreneurs, with great ideas, build companies. iQ fosters student innovation and entrepreneurship with the mission of creating jobs and companies by teaching aspiring entrepreneurs what it takes to launch a company – drawing attention to the value of business skills regardless of academic discipline.

“Entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity are alive and well at UConn,’’ said iQ director and management professor Rich Dino, noting that the number of participants this year exceeded last year.

“This is our fifth year and each year it gets better and better,’’ said alumnus Keith Fox ’80, an entrepreneur, executive and philanthropist who brought the iQ program to UConn after seeing its success in California.

Nearly 500 students have participated in iQ since its launch, said Dean John A. Elliott, and their contributions have been remarkable.

Successfully launched companies include: Dashride, a provider of mobile dispatching software for taxi and limousine companies; Macroscopic Solutions, which makes the Macropod, a package that includes a high-resolution digital camera, powerful optics, industry leading precision hardware and novel software packages to provide customers with images that are significant in research, digitization and education; and SMPLBIO, which offers bioinformatics for everyday use in life science research and diagnostics, enabling researchers to gain insights into the nature of genes and proteins, thereby expediting new diagnostics, better drugs and superior therapeutics.

iQ connects student teams with alumni mentors and other experts who have experience in building companies and can help take a project from an idea to the marketplace. After months of development, the top finalists present their refined ideas to an audience of angel investors and venture capitalists.

“I wouldn’t miss it for anything,’’ said mentor Larry Yakaitis ’81, president of a software company. “Every year the quality of the students, the teams and the ideas are escalating to new levels, both in terms of the content and scope of what they’ve come up with. The connections they’re making in the business world are amazing.’’