Three U students win grand prize in Utah Entrepreneurial Challenge

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Wasatch Microfluidics, a new company that U students Josh Eckman, Jim Smith and Meghan Jobson formed, took home the $40,000 grand prize for winning the Utah Entrepreneurial Challenge.

The company developed a protein microspotter for the competition. It prints microscopic spots of protein on glass slides for pharmaceutical and biological research.

The new microspotter is 86 times better than any current protein spotting technology, according to Josh Eckman, cofounder of the company.

“Our microspotic techniques replace outdated technology that are based on DNA analysis,” Eckman said.

The challenge, now in its sixth year, allows students from every college and university in Utah to create business plans for a new enterprise, and enter in competition for startup money.

Jerry Nelson, one of the nine judges of the competition, predicts a bright future for the young company.

“They have a very, very large upside, little competition and excellent profitability,” he said. “To me, Wasatch Microfluidics stood out.”

The new microspotter will help researchers develop new pharmaceuticals for cancer, diabetes, AIDS, Alzheimer’s and a whole host of other diseases, Eckman said.

“The importance of protein research will grow over the coming years do to the completion of the human genome project,” Eckman said.

The human genome project was an effort to map the 46 human chromosomes.

“Now that the human genome has been sequenced, it is necessary to sequence…all the proteins in the body, so we can create drugs that combine that knowledge,” Eckman said.

The concept for the microspotter originated after David Myszka of the School of Medicine came to the company 18 months ago asking for a better protein printer. Eckman, Smith and Jobson created the microspotter and broke off from the Utah State Center for Biomedical Microfluidics at the U to commercialize the product last December.

At the awards banquet, President Michael Young saluted the UEC program.

“It has transformed the way we think about business education…it bridges the gap between educational institutions and the real world,” he said.

The program has helped start companies MediaPort Entertainment, the music ATM; TermSeek, a creator of translation software; LoveSac, an alternative furniture manufacturer; and SilentWhistle, an anonymous feedback system for companies.

BilliardEx, another student-founded company, tied for second place and took home $5,000.

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