Jake Nickell, founder of Threadless.com, was one of several nationally prominent designers who spoke at the second-annual Made By Few designer/tech conference in Little Rock over the weekend.
He offered some good advice to the 300 or so who filled the Great Hall on Saturday at the Clinton Presidential Center for a day of showcase, education and inspiration (perhaps even a little perspiration).
Courtesy of MxF co-founder Abbi Siler, Nickell told attendees to get their ideas down on paper — “Doodle, try, sketch, tinker. Get it out of your head.”
The MIT competition is one of the nation’s most prestigious business-plan contests focused on sustainability, and most of the teams Picasolar beat were from MIT and Harvard. UA startup mentor Carol Reeves — literally, the Pat Summit of business-plan team mentors — called the win “simply amazing.”
As of Tuesday team members were still in Boston meeting with potential investors. The team won a total of $250,000 for winning MIT — $150,000 from MIT and $100,000 from the Department of Energy.
Team members are Trish Flanagan, Seth Shumate, Matthew Young and Michael Miller, all UA grad students.
Picasolar is a product of the Walton Business College, and its patent-pending technology potentially could revolutionize the solar industry. Invented by Shumate, the Picasolar tech “fixes…flaws in the surfaces of silicon solar cells,” as Flanagan told the Boston Globe.
Picasolar believes its tech can increase efficiency by 15 percent and save cell manufacturers as much as $20 million annually, and it has a growing legion of believers. Just this spring, Picasolar has shared its story at prestigious competitions from one end of the continent to the other.
Care of Reeves and Chris Branam of UA University Relations, here’s a full rundown of Picasolar’s 2013 accomplishments:
Picasolar took third place and won the elevator pitch contest at the Stu Clark Investment Competition on March 23, hosted by the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. The team won $5,000 for finishing third and $1,000 for winning the elevator pitch.
In addition, Picasolar qualified to compete — no small feat — in the uber prestigious Rice University and VLIC (UT-Austin) competitions, but didn’t make the finals (ummm, Texas refs, anyone?). Don’t worry, though. UA teams have fared pretty well at those events over the years. More on those accomplishments later.
The success of the inaugural ARK Challenge accelerator helped recruit startups to its second run.
Ten participating teams will be chosen this month from among 92 teams representing 14 countries that applied. The ARK, which debuted last fall in Fayetteville, will return for 14 weeks from June through early September.
Here, though, is some ARK Challenge director’s cut material (this time, the ARK is taking on 10 startups as opposed to 15 and offering each $20,000 in seed capital instead of $15,000).
ARK director Jeannette Balleza:
Based on our experience last year, we believe that we can deliver more value to our startup founders by providing more money to the teams and concentrating our efforts on fewer, highly vetted businesses. Additionally, we will be requiring that each team has a technical co-founder on board, as our three-month intensive program calls for a dedicated developer to be able to build, test and ideally pilot the technology.
The program itself provides a new technology startup with seed funding to allow for full-time focus, world-class mentorship from the top business minds in retail, logistics and food, as well as make-it-happen networking with movers and shakers in Arkansas, across the country and around the world. Additionally, The ARK Challenge defines a clear road map for defining a lean business model, acquiring customers, pitching to investors, networking strategically to form long-lasting relationships and adding employees.
Within the first 90 days of last year’s Demo Day, six of our 15 companies received follow-on funding. Additionally, as the ARK Challenge exists to advance regional competitiveness, we believe that our startups can solve many problems for the retail, logistics and food industries through the innovative use of technology. However, there are also excellent programs like Northwest Arkansas Startup Cup that offer mentorship and resources to non-tech startups.
And here’s a testimonial from ARK Challenge alum Natasia Malaihollo of Sooligan. Natasia and fellow co-founder Nikka Umil relocated to Fayetteville last year from Berkeley, Calif. to participate in the ARK’s inaugural run. They’re glad they did:
When we came in, we had a long list of things we wanted to accomplish. Nikka had Googled and researched every [ARK Challenge] single mentor on the website. She had narrowed down a list of people she felt could benefit Sooligan and our team somehow. She made sure we would seek them out when they came by the Berg [Iceberg, co-working space in Fayetteville that served, and will serve, as home base to ARK teams] and everyone was always so open and eager to help.
The Iceberg taught us a lot about time management and preparedness. However, its biggest impact was on our business pitch. Every company has a pitch, but I didn’t realized how hard it is to pitch a product and company, in a very short amount of time. The first thing you learn to do in the program is pitch. We start pitch practice on the first day, and for good reason. Everyday new people come in that want to hear about your product, and you have to be ready to do a quick elevator pitch. Our pitch is still evolving now, and it is not yet perfect, but it is significantly better than when we started and has helped us raise a good amount of money in our pre-seed round.
We also pitched recently at 2 Startup America events in Austin during SxSW, and so many people came up to me afterwards and asked me where I learned to pitch like that. I really learned the technique, the writing skills, delivery and presentation while I was in the Ark Challenge.
The inaugural Designed By Few, a design competition pitting local designers, was held Friday and won by Fort Smith freelancer Jeremy Teff. Check back later for more on both events, and thanks to ABPG’s Dean Wheeler for the awesome video.