Local startups will have the opportunity to win $100,000 at the Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad finale event in Auburn on April 4.
Nearly a dozen Alabama companies competed in the preliminary competition in February at the Courtyard by Marriott in Auburn. Teams that advanced to the finale round included four teams from Auburn, one from Alexander City and one from Tuskegee.
Alabama Launchpad was founded in 2006 as a program of the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama. Alabama Launchpad helps high growth companies start, stay and grow in Alabama while supporting, advocating, and recognizing entrepreneurship statewide. The program awards around $800,000 each year to help startups grow. The funding is provided by grants and corporate sponsorships.
“Our main interest is a product or service that has the ability to scale beyond a local or even a regional presence,” said Greg Sheek, Alabama Launchpad Programs director. “We’re looking for companies or products that have a global market potential.”
The Auburn Regional Alabama Launchpad is hosted by the city of Auburn, the Auburn University Harbert College of Business and the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation. Teams will compete in the final event on April 4 at the ALFA Pavilion at Ag Heritage Park, 620-A S. Donahue Dr., at 4 p.m. The four Auburn teams competing include:
FoPark by Focus Engineering
Sakthi Kandaswaamy and Parker Roan started Focus Engineering in Auburn in 2012. Both men graduated from Auburn University and experienced the parking frustrations first-hand.
“Before you head to class, for an 8 a.m. class you have to be there by 7 or 7:15 a.m. because you don’t know where you will get a parking space,” Kandaswaamy said. “You just have to keep driving around. I faced this problem every single day when I was in school. We wanted to develop a solution and this idea was in the back of my head all the time.”
The idea was FoPark, a real-time parking occupancy solution. The company uses security cameras in parking lots to determine space occupancy. The cameras can cover anywhere from 20 to 200 parking spaces. The company already has a contract with the university and monitors 2,500 spots and is currently working on a contract with the city of Auburn. FoPark is currently testing in the Gay Street parking lot.
“If you’re going to downtown or to campus, you have the ability to see how occupied a lot is and if we have spaces available to park, the FoPark app would tell you exactly where those spaces are.” Kandaswaamy said. “You don’t have to go around looking for a parking space.”
There are currently two FoPark apps and websites: fopark.com, which includes the city and university and wareagleparking.com, which is specifically for the university. The apps and websites show what percent of the lot is full and where spots are available. It also offers driving directions, a bus and bicycle route and more.
FoPark has also expanded to Vanderbilt University and hopes to expand throughout the country.
Chemical engineers Barry Yeh, Tareq Anani and Allan David have developed a safer contrast agent for MRIs. A contrast agent injection called Gadolinium is given to patients who undergo an MRI to increase the resolution of the image. Currently, this contrast agent cannot be given to every patient.
“The problem is at this moment in time, that contract agent cannot be given to any patient that has poor kidney function,” Yeh said. “There are about 2 million people world-wide every year who cannot take an injection of Gadolinium because they have poor kidney function. Really what we’ve developed is a safer material that can be given to those patients.”
Through a National Science Foundation Grant and collaboration with the Auburn University MRI center, the engineers have developed technology that allows them to control the nanoparticles within the contrast agent.
“Basically our goal is to deliver a product in the market that can be given to all patients right in the beginning, to those patients with poor kidney function, and it’s because we think we have a safer product,” Yeh said. “It can then, in the future, replace all Gadolinium from the market.”
Tennibot, an autonomous tennis ball collector, was born out of frustration.
“I was getting tired of hitting with the tennis ball machine for hours and hours and I spent more time picking up balls than hitting them, so I started looking into buying something,” said developer Haitham Eletrabi. “When I didn’t find anything out there, this is when we started building the project and getting this thing together.”
Eletrabi described Tennibot as “Roomba for tennis balls.”
“It basically moves around court on its own picking up tennis balls so that the tennis players and coaches can focus more on tennis balls and playing, rather than picking up balls,” he said.
Eletrabi, who has a PhD in civil engineering and an MBA and is originally from Egypt, has been working on Tennibot with his business partner Lincoln Wang for more than two years. The product has been featured in magazines and has won several awards, such as the people’s choice award in the statewide Launchpad competition.
Alexi Kisselev is developing a novel treatment for multiple myeloma and other cancers. A biochemist by training, Kisselev, who is originally from Russia, also has a PhD and completed a fellowship at Harvard Medical School.
InhiProt is a drug discovery company and Kisselevhas been working on a treatment for multiple myeloma for about 10 years.
Multiple myeloma is an incurable cancer with an expected median survival of around seven years. With the current drugs available, all patients relapse and eventually become resistant to any treatments.
Kisselev has discovered an inhibitor which re-sensitizes drug-resistant cell lines and primary cells from myeloma patients to these FDA-approved proteasome inhibitors.
“What this drug will do, it will re-sensitize cancer cells from resistant patients in Myeloma to existing treatments,” Kisselev explained.