With thousands of dollars on the line, six Texas companies had to impress a panel of judges with a 20-minute pitch and question-and-answer session at Thursday’s Texas A&M New Ventures Competition.
Local company FluxWorks LLC received the top prize of $35,000 for its magnetic gear technology, which has improved reliability and reduced maintenance cost compared to its counterpart the mechanical gear.
Bryton Praslicka, president and CEO of FluxWorks LLC, said they are pursuing the free drone market due to sector growth. With its magnetic gear technology, Praslicka said the company plans to reduce drone noise by 83% and reduce CO2 emissions by having more electric delivery drones up and running.
Praslicka said the competition is incredibly important for start-up companies like his and it goes well beyond the cash prize. One of the reasons the company entered the competition was to find more business leadership to join its team.
“Being in a room full of experienced Aggies that have taken companies from an idea to a commercial product, getting that intangible wisdom from them, that mentorship from them, and just getting the judges’ feedback has been incredible,” Praslicka said.
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The company is partnered with Texas A&M University and was built from 13 years of research and development in the university’s Advanced Electric Machines & Power Electronics Lab, Praslicka said.
“We love this community,” he said. “This community has been giving back to us; we want to give back to this community, and then there’s also the proximity to research and the excellent talent that’s here.”
Over the next two years, FluxWorks LLC will use three Small Business Research Innovation Grants to develop six units of its product, the magnetic gear integrated motor, Praslicka said. By 2023, Praslicka hopes they can put their product on a drone platform and perform a pilot test at the Bush Combat Development Center.
“It’s exciting. It means people believe in our technology and see the value of it not just because it’s clean, not just because its green, but because it makes business sense,” Praslicka said. “This is my PhD work. I’ve been working on this ‘round the clock for three years.”
What stood out about FluxWorks LLC was its highly technical founder who knew exactly what to surround himself with in order to move forward, said competition judge Alex Arevalos, CEO of Starling Medical and winner of last year’s event.
“Just the amount of potential applications from a market perspective for that technology, the speed at which they could get it to the market, and a lot of the narrative made sense on how they could bring value to their customers,” Arevalos said.
Arevalos said early stage companies have the opportunity to prove their ability by delivering their narrative at the competition. Upon winning last year, Starling Medical reinvested the prize money into product development to allow for the generation of key data milestones that led to additional funding, Arevalos said.
“These small little prize monies mean so much for early stage companies where they can go on to parlay that into further success,” he said. “Smaller companies just need a little break and if they have the right team they could then turn that little break into something big.”
Unlike other competitions, Texas A&M New Ventures does not limit companies based off their technology type so long as their technology is related to science or engineering, according to Chris Scotti, Chair of Texas A&M New Ventures Competition & Director of New Ventures, TAMU Innovation Partners.
“It’s different in that it’s not like your student or idea competition,” Scotti said. “These have to be real companies that have a management team in place. They have some real technology that is patentable or protectable.”
The event both recognizes and catalyzes the growth of Texas’ best start-up companies while providing them with the necessary resources and connections to be successful, Scotti said. This year, $475,000 was distributed among finalists and semifinalists that competed in a one-minute elevator pitch competition.
“For companies at this stage it’s extremely hard to find funding,” Scotti said. “It’s hard to find traction and recognition in the marketplace. It’s hard to find the correct mentors or even a new CEO for the company.”
Scotti said the competition also provides companies an opportunity to do business with Texas A&M or potentially move their business to the Brazos Valley. Texas A&M Health Science Center sponsored a prize this year which would provide a grant to do sponsored research at Texas A&M, Scotti said.
“One of our major sponsors is the Brazos Valley Economic Development Corporation,” Scotti said. “The reason that they do that is so they’ll have an opportunity to get in front of these businesses to kind of expose them to everything that our area has to offer.”
The event has doled out $2.4 million in prize money in eight years and over $376 million has been raised by competing companies. Scotti said 98% of finalists and 86% of semifinalists are still in business.
“We had past competitors come back and do something called the Winners’ Circle Legacy Prize,” Scotti said. “These are past winners who have done well coming back, writing a check and picking a winner of a special side prize, so it’s like paying it forward.
“It’s like completing the cycle. Research something, grow the company, that company gives back to the organization that helped them and I can see this one snowballing. It’s exciting to see.”