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Sunday, April 11, 2021

In Market: Everyone’s a winner in this competition

There’s plenty of competition among universities, but in this one, everyone is a winner.

Three universities from North Texas will compete on April 5 and 6 for $100,000 in total cash prizes at the 2019 Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures Competition at the Neeley School of Business at TCU. Among them will be a team from TCU. Teams from Southern Methodist University and the University of Texas at Dallas will also be among the teams from 56 universities participating.

Each spring, TCU invites students from around the world to pitch ideas for conscious capitalism ventures that make a profit while also solving a problem. Winners take home cash to help make their ideas come true.

Among the ideas that have received recognition from the event since 2011: Recycling plants that employ the homeless; better access to autism treatment; human-powered farm machines; and payment kiosks that don’t charge banking fees.

The TCU team consists of three young women who have the power of five TCU disciplines behind them, Maddie Kingsbury, Devan Peplow and Mavis Tang.

Kingsbury, Peplow and Tang won the internal competition to advance to the global one and represent TCU.

At the competition, the team will present Sounde, a hearing app that allows people with hearing impairments to hear in real time. The app doesn’t simply amplify sound. Using a proprietary algorithm developed by Liran Ma, associate professor of computer science at TCU, the technology breaks apart sounds and then pieces them back together to produce a viable sound in less than 50 milliseconds. The app is targeted for people suffering from mild to moderate hearing loss as an affordable bridge or supplement to expensive hearing aids.

The Sounde team brings together the Neeley School of Business (business strategy), College of Science and Engineering (proprietary technology), Harris College of Nursing and Health Sciences (communication sciences and disorders) and College of Fine Arts (graphic design and sound recording and processing).

The plan came together when Rodney D’Souza, Davis Family Entrepreneur-in-Residence and managing director of the TCU Neeley Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, heard about Ma’s technology, featured in TCU Magazine. D’Souza contacted Ma, who was happy to have business students develop a plan to commercialize the technology. The two professors worked out an agreement to give the team exclusive licensing of the technology for that purpose.

D’Souza then interviewed a dozen TCU Neeley School of Business students for the team.

“I was looking for fit, drive, vision, smarts and tenacity,” D’Souza said.

He found it in Tang, Kingsbury and Peplow.

Peplow, who suffers from partial hearing loss, is particularly excited to work on the project.

“Hearing is so important to human connection,” said Peplow, an entrepreneurial management major and BNSF Neeley Leader. “Our team is trying our hardest to bring this affordable technology to the masses.”

Kingsbury, a marketing major, believes the app has real potential.

“With a really strong team and advisors in place, I feel confident that we have a viable and exciting business opportunity with a technology that can make hearing aids affordable,” she said.

Tang, an entrepreneurial management major and BNSF Neeley Leader, echoed her teamates’ statements and is looking forward to representing TCU at the global Values and Ventures Competition.

“I am really grateful to be a part of this team and learn from all the amazing individuals who have helped us along the way,” she said.

All three are seniors who will graduate in May 2019.

The competition, started in 2011, has handed out $500,000 in cash prizes, featured 285 ventures, and seen 138 companies launched or in the process launching over that time.

Update: Here were the teams that took the top three places in the competiton:

Grand Prize, $40,000: American University

The team from American University won the grand prize for Celise, which produces biodegradable alternatives to plasticware and straws made with cornstarch and almost identical in feel and performance as plastic.

Pointing out that there 56,000 pounds of plastic waste were produced this year alone, American University student Cameron Ross told the judges: “While we can’t solve the problem, we can manage it,” with Celise’s cornstarch products. The company donates 5 percent of profits to composting in developing countries.

Second Place, $25,000: University of New Mexico

The sister team from the University of New Mexico won for EasyFlo, founded by Alissa Chavez, an affordable bottle to eliminate the hassle of mixing bottles on the go and reduce waste from the 60 million plastic baby bottles sold annually. The company offers a give-and-get program for people to donate bottles.

Third Place, $15,000: Texas Christian University

The hometown team from TCU won for Sounde, a hearing app developed by a TCU science and engineering professor with a proprietary algorithm that breaks apart sounds and pieces them back together so only certain frequencies are heard, according to a person’s hearing prescription. The app performs in milliseconds so the person hears in real time. The app is aimed at the 49 million people in the United States who suffer from hearing loss.

Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.

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Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

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