PhD Candidate's Team Selected for Entrepreneurial Start-Up Award

Genesence, a new venture that unlocks the power of pharmacogenetics, bested 21 other University of Arizona McGuire New Venture Development Program student startup teams to win the grand prize.
"Nearly 2 million people in the US are hospitalized every year for taking medications as prescribed. The Genesence team is offering a DNA report that has the promise of drastically reducing those numbers."

Mok Oh, a PhD candidate in pharmacoeconomics with past experience as a pharmacist in Korea, participated on the winning team.

This year’s event took place at a new venue, the Leo Rich Theater in downtown Tucson, where more than 250 people watched as 22 student startup teams presented their innovative new ventures in a rapid-fire rocket pitch competition and trade show.

This year’s event took place at a new venue, the Leo Rich Theater in downtown Tucson, where more than 250 people watched as 22 student startup teams presented their innovative new ventures in a rapid-fire rocket pitch competition and trade show. 

The student entrepreneurs are enrolled in the Eller College of Management's McGuire New Venture Development Program, where they have received nearly a year of intensive experiential education that engages them in the process of moving innovation from an early-stage idea to a sustainable launch-ready venture. The competitive-entry program is open to undergraduate and graduate students from across the University of Arizona. The New Venture Development Program class of 2018 is made up of 86 students from nine colleges: Eller College of Management; College of Agriculture and Life Science; College of Engineering; College of Fine Arts; College of Humanities; College of Letters, Arts and Science; College of Pharmacy; College of Science; and College of Social and Behavioral Studies.

Student teams are often made up of individuals from diverse backgrounds. Genesence's team members are Juhyung Sun, a dual masters MBA/MPH student with prior background in healthcare delivery and policy; Grace Gainey, an undergraduate senior at the Eller College of Management with a double major in management and entrepreneurship; Joshua Uhlorn, a PhD student in physiological science with an undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering; and Mok Oh.

With more than $40,000 in cash and prizes on the line, the stakes were high as a panel of judges rated each team on market need, product-market fit, customer acquisition strategy, operating plan and financial viability. The judges were: 

  • Base Horner — An Executive Board Member and Chairman of the Screening Panel for the Desert Angels who also serves on the board of Eller Executive Education and at several other companies. He is a co-founder of Arch Partners LLC, a team of successful entrepreneur-investors who utilize their expertise in go-to-market strategy and execution, financing, and exit strategies to build and realize value for the owners of their portfolio companies. In 1999, Mr. Horner co-founded US Capital Partners LLC. 
  • Katina Koller — A former Chairwoman, CEO and owner whose teams she led have been recognized for many awards, including the INC 5000 list as one of the fastest growing privately-held companies in America for two consecutive years. Building on improvement and service, Katina is an Entrepreneurial Operating System Implementer. She works with a variety of companies in the fields of service, product, technology, manufacturing and non-profits, and also facilitates peer advisory groups on the Chief Executive and Key Executive levels as a Vistage Chair and Strategic Advisor.
  • Christopher McGuire — Vice-President of Programs and the Director of the H.N. and Frances C. Berger Foundation, he is responsible for executive leadership, vision and oversight for a variety of programs and services, and has initiated new philanthropic endeavors. The McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship and the McGuire Program were both renamed in 2003 in recognition of Mr. McGuire, a UA alum, and his wife, Carol. They, and the California-based Berger foundation, have provided significant support — financial and personal — to the Center and its program since its inception. 
  • Adam Tank — Director of Smart Cities for SUEZ, an international water company headquartered in France. He accepted this role after his last company, Industrial Optic, was acquired in early 2018. There he served as the Founder/CEO and led the development of a submersible robot capable of repairing buried pipelines without the need to dig up streets. Prior to this Adam led GE Water's Digital Water division as their business development and Ventures lead, focused on crafting software solutions for water utilities and investing in startups with ties to GE's mission.
  • Matt Williams — Founder and CEO of Pro.com, a home services marketplace where customers get instant price estimates for home projects, find trusted pros and schedule appointments online. After earning a B.S. in Business - Entrepreneurship in three years, Mr. Williams co-founded LiveBid.com, a Seattle-based company that pioneered real-time, event-based auctions online. After his startup was acquired by Amazon in 1999, Mr. Williams spent 11 years in a variety of executive roles at the company. Mr. Williams was CEO of Digg from September 2010 until completing the sale of the company in July 2012. He spent a year as Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Andreessen Horowitz before starting Pro.com.

The first round of the competition involved 3-minute rocket pitches from each team. The judges then asked six teams to return for a final round: 

  • Blare, which makes tech-equipped jewelry to discreetly alert trusted contacts and law enforcement of a user’s location in dangerous situations.
  • Ecocrete, which manufactures and sells construction materials made of recycled byproducts that are safe, cost-effective and eco-friendly. 
  • Genesence, which offers DNA testing for genes related to medication and nutrition, empowering you to take informed steps to a healthier you. 
  • Gradeology, which empowers students by transitioning education management from a reactive to a proactive experience. 
  • Photo Op, which connects businesses looking for photographers with professional photographers looking for work.
  • Shanker and Sons, a company established to capitalize upon the suffering golf industry and provide non-conforming golf equipment to reverse the traditional stereotypes of golf.

The final round involved 5-minute pitches and 5 minutes of Q&A with the panel of judges, who picked the top three winning teams:

  • Grand Prize Award ($10,000): Genesence
  • Second Place Award ($5,000): Gradeology
  • Third Place Award ($2,500): Shanker and Sons

"Congratulations to our top three winners — Genesence, Gradeology, and Shanker and Sons — who bring solutions to some of the most serious challenges in health, education... and fun!" said K Krasnow Waterman, McGuire Center Lecturer and Entrepreneur In Residence who mentored all three winning teams. "Nearly 2 million people in the US are hospitalized every year for taking medications as prescribed. The Genesence team is offering a DNA report that has the promise of drastically reducing those numbers by identifying genetic mutations impacting the absorption of medication. Gradeology captured the judges' imagination with the power of big data, showing how complicated academic data can be harnessed to provide students with better choices now and in their future. And Shanker and Sons showed how important salesmanship is to a pitch; they had the audience cheering!"

Other notable awards included:

  • Connect Coworking Award - $11,600 value: Gradeology
  • Microsoft Social Innovation Award and $5,000: Ecocrete
  • Arizona Center for Innovation Award - $2,075 value: Genexam, promoting better lifestyle decisions and reducing future health risks by delivering a comprehensive genomic profile.
  • Startup Stay in Tucson Award - $2,000 value: Ecocrete
  • People's Choice Award and $2,000: Algoe Chemicals, which provides chemical manufacturers with a reducing agent to drive stronger, better reactions.

For more details about this year’s student venture teams, visit the McGuire New Venture Competition event

This story was originally published by the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship.