Research ParkArchive for the ‘’ Category

Gift Caddie Aims to Make Online Wish Lists Easier

Article Source: TECH cocktail, Zach Davis, April 28, 2012

What is the Internet?  Ask a nerd, and you’ll likely get some elaborate answer about networks, protocols, and Al Gore.  I believe the explanation can be boiled down to one word: information.  The Internet is information.  It’s everything you ever needed to know about anything, plus cat videos.

So why then are we still taking wild guesses when buying gifts for others?  Amazon WishList has attempted to solve this problem, but the service requires you to install a web app to add off-site items. also requires an installation, and their UX leaves something to be desired.

Teresa Savage, co-founder and CEO of Gift Caddie, believes that her service is the solution.  By partnering with comparison shopping service PriceGrabber, in addition to working seamlessly across all websites, Gift Caddie is making a real push at capturing the “wish list” market.

“Gift Caddie grew out of my inability to buy great gifts for my children. Gift giving in my family had deteriorated to where I’d give my daughter a gift with a receipt, and my son stored the gifts I bought him in a closet and never used them,” says Savage.

In the process of creating Gift Caddie, Savage thought that she was building a service for college students.  It didn’t quite turn out that way: “It’s been women in intimate relationships who’ve been Gift Caddie’s biggest users and most vocal supporters,” Savage continues. “It seems husbands and boyfriends need serious guidance in giving women what they really want and need.”


Gift Caddie was one of the showcased startups at Tech Cocktail’s recent Champaign Mixer.  I asked Savage to give us a taste of what the startup scene in the area looks like:

Champaign start-up entrepreneurs tend to be intergenerational, probably due to the influence of the University of Illinois. You have profs working with students, and either one could be the team leader on a project. There’s a lot of trust between generations, and the most important thing is who has the talent and passion to bring the project to fruition.

Buying a gift for a loved one?  Stop guessing.  Urge them onto Gift Caddie today.  

5 Early Stage Startup Founders Share Valuable Advice on Starting Up

Article Source: TECH cocktail, Monika Jansen, April 27, 2012

At Tuesday night’s Tech Cocktail Champaign Mixer event, we had the unique opportunity to showcase 5 startups that are so early stage they are still in either conceptual or research mode.  Thanks to the University of Illinois’s focus on engineering and science at their Urbana-Champaign campus, 4 of these startups are very hard science-focused.

Here is a snapshot of what each team is working on, along with what they have learned so far about the startup life:

OceanComm, which is so new it does not have website yet, was founded by 3 Electrical and Computer Engineering PhD candidates, Thomas Riedl, Navid Aghasadeghi and Andrew Beam.  Their wireless underwater communications technology makes it easier to maneuver underwater robots that are exploring mineral and natural resource repositories.

Riedl’s suggestion to other early stage startup founders: “Pitch your idea early and to everyone you know to get a feel for how exciting your product is and also to potentially get some good feedback. “

StudyCloud’s founding team of Andrew Lee, Ravi Pilla and Tom Zheng worked on a cloud music startup before shifting their attention to education. Their goal is to build a truly disruptive learning management platform that makes communication and collaboration as seamless as social networks.

“The biggest piece of advice I would give to other early stage startup founders is that the team is the most important aspect of a startup – even more important than the idea itself, “Palli shared. “The group of people that you work with can make all the difference. A talented group of people who are extremely passionate about what they are working on and are willing to dedicate their time willingly without direct monetary incentives can definitely execute and create a successful startup, even if the first or second or even third time doesn’t work out.”

Luon Energy, which sort of has a website, produces nano absorbents to increase the storage capacity of conventional seamless natural gas tanks.  It might not sound like an environmental company, but it is: Co-founder Professor Nie Luo believes that natural gas is the key to solving both environmental and economic problems.

Between Dr. Luo and his co-founders Dr. Michael Yang and Dr. Ji Cui (all hold PhDs in a hard science) they have 40+ years R&D experience. Echoing Michael Riedl from OceanComm, Dr. Luo said: “To succeed, startup founders should talk with customers and stakeholders on the market by any means necessary.”

GlucoSentient was founded by Professor Yi Lu, PhD candidates Tian Lan and Brian Wong, and startup advisor Neil Kane.  Their technology transforms the personal blood glucose meter into a versatile on-site testing platform for monitoring drug dosage, health biomarkers, or contaminants.

“The two most important things to focus on [as a startup] is developing the prototype and identifying the market,” Wong said.  “Everything else will fall in place if you do a good job with these.”

Worldview is the one non-science startup of the bunch.  This social platform is like Google Earth meets Live Stream – it joins together high quality, continuous live video content with geo-location services.  Before a single line of code was written, the team spent a year studying and analyzing where the future of social media was headed to create a next-generation platform

Co-founders Elias Lopez and David Simmons shared a lot of great advice for other startup founders:

“It is easier to get a million in funding than it is to acquire a great web developer. However, don’t underestimate the worth of a less experienced developer. What they lack in skill, they make up for in enthusiasm, drive and loyalty.

There is money, and then there is smart money. Choose your partners wisely and your investors prudently. Once someone puts money behind your idea consider yourself hitched. Get to know them, their interest, their temperament and most importantly, their management style.

Don’t quit your day job! While a seed investment may seem like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, it’s more like stepping out of a landing craft on the sandy beaches of Normandy.

Execution is everything and ideas are a dime a dozen…. Optimize your time, stay focused, get sleep if possible, and exercise daily. A sharp mind goes a long way.”

Is the Government Voting on Bills that Hurt Your Startup? Find out on TrakBill

Article Source: TECH cocktail, Kira Newman, April 26, 2012

“We’ll figure it out later.”

That’s how some startups, who might be breaking laws or regulations, decide to deal with it. We’re so tiny that no one will care, right?

If you want to err on the side of caution, take a few minutes to sign up for TrakBill. Designed for lobbyists, this new service can also help small businesses monitor bills that could affect them (for free). You can sign up for notifications when bills reach specific stages – e.g., passed by the House or signed into law – and discover other relevant legislation.

Like CQ StateTrack, TrakBill focuses on state-level bills (currently just in Illinois), but they plan to expand to federal. The data comes from state websites, like, and THOMAS: Library of Congress.

TrakBill was showcased at our Tech Cocktail Champaign mixer on Tuesday.

Reduce Food Waste at Restaurants with Zero Percent

Article Source: TECH cocktail, Kira Newman, April 25, 2012

Urbana, IL’s Zero Percent is tackling a problem that’s already been accepted as the norm: food waste.

“As standard business practice, U.S. restaurants waste over $10 billion a year —Literally. When faced with the chore of trying to find use of excess fresh-food inventory, the easiest thing for a restaurant manager to do is just throw it away,” explains founder Rajesh Karmani, who delayed his PhD to start the company.

Their solution is a marketplace where restaurants can hand out excess food through discounts or donations and find volunteers to drop off the food at food banks.

But Zero Percent is still a hard sell: not only do restauranteurs expect to waste food, but they’re busy and not always tech savvy.

Still, the startup has managed to collect donations of over 1,000 pounds of food during its 8 month beta. It’s a start toward Karmani’s goal to create a movement:

“The Zero Percent Mission is to help all businesses in the United States achieve zero food waste. We started this service intending to do nothing less than initiating a cultural movement. We welcome collaborators and even competitors who will advance this mission and look forward to living in a world more conscious of food waste.”

The service is currently available in Champaign, and Zero Percent was showcased at our Tech Cocktail Champaign mixer last night.

IVCA Visits the Office of Technology Management and the Research Park in Urbana-Champaign for Faculty Presentations and Start-up Company Visits

Article Source: IVCA, April 11, 2012

On April 5th and 6thIVCA caught the vision for new company formation in the middle of Illinois at the “Share the Vision 2012: University of Illinois Technology Showcase”.  The event, organized by the Office of Technology Management attracted over 100 VCs, Corporate Development professionals and other interested constituents to hear about the excitement at the University of Illinois’ downstate campus.All of the “Share the Visions 2012” events were held at the University’s Research Park including 11 occupied office/lab buildings and a hotel/conference center. The facilities are beautiful but the impact of the research park is astounding:

  • Named “2011 Outstanding Research Park” by Association of University Research Parks
  • Named in the “Ten Technology Incubators Changing the World” by
  • Named one of “Ten Start-up Incubators to Watch” by
  • Houses over 90 companies with more than 1,200 employees
  • Research Park startups have raised $135 million and over $64 million in SBIR/STTR funding

The Office of the Vice President for Research led by Larry Schook, is committed to developing deep and meaningful relationships between U of I’s most innovative faculty and industry, government, and academic partners. The office includes the Offices of Technology Management (in Urbana & Chicago), IllinoisVENTURES and the Research Park. The Office of Technology Management’s mission is to transfer IP created on the Urbana-Champaign campus into practical use to benefit the public as quickly and effectively as possible.

Thursday’s agenda included presentations from 38 faculty members whose cutting edge research is making a different in today’s world. Presentations were divided into two tracks: Advanced Materials, Clean Energy & Sustainability and Systems & Devices for Health. Each presentation included a summary of their main areas of research and examples of how the research has been applied to solve important business and/or defense issues. An astounding number of the presenters have already commercialized more than one technology and launched new companies. Click here for a review of Speakers.

On Friday, we were hosted by Laura Frerichs, Research Park Director as we visited EnterpriseWorks, an incubation home to early stage technology companies with relationships or ties to the University. Visitors toured up to 8 companies focusing on two of four verticals: Computing, Biotechnolgy, Materials/Nanotech or Clean Tech. We moved around the EnterpriseWorks facility and other areas of the Research Park to meet with entrepreneurs in their workspace. EnterpriseWorks includes lab space, conference space, offices and server/co-location data center.

The trip South was a real eye-opening experience for the Illinois alumni. Hats off to the Office of Technology Management and the Research Park. It was easy to see why the facility has received so many accolades!

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