UW Business Plan Competition Winners: Clean Water, Better Food, & Next-Gen Medical Scans

[Updated at 12:30 to correct grand prize amount] After nearly two months of development, pitching, advice, and several rounds of judging, the 2011 University of Washington Business Plan Competition is a wrap. The annual event drew 104 teams this year, which the UW’s Foster Business School says is a record. Last night, winners were named in several categories, with $60,000 in prize money handed out.

We stopped by the second round last month, where 37 teams presented their ideas in a big trade show atmosphere to compete for “investor dollars” that would move them to the sweet 16 round. I wasn’t judging, but I did profile a few interesting proto-companies from the crowd that fit our technology focus. Apparently, I wasn’t too prescient—although a few of the folks I looked at made the round of 16, none were finalists.

Here’s a look at the top award-winners from last night’s event. Go check out the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship website for more details on the rest of the honorees, including the full rundown on all the “best idea” prize-winners.

—Grand Prize, $25,000: PotaVida. This UW group is making a cheap, reusable electronic device that helps people in third world countries disinfect drinking water with sunlight. Solar disinfection is an easy way of purifying water—you just put plastic bottles out in the sun until the heat and UV rays have made it safe to drink. But knowing when the process is complete isn’t automatic. The PotaVida device uses inexpensive electronics and blinking lights to tell people when enough light exposure has taken place to make the water safe.

—Second Prize, $10,000: Stockbox Grocers. Urban areas are sometimes plagued with “food deserts,” areas where good, fresh food is much harder to find than snacks and junk from the corner store. The Stockbox Grocers team, from Bainbridge Graduate Institute, wants to change that by transforming old metal shipping containers into pop-up grocery stores. They can be placed in parking lots or other open areas, and provide fresh produce and other grocery staples relatively cheaply.

—Finalist Prize, $5,000: Solanux. Starches can be a problem for people with diabetic symptoms, or even people watching their weight, because they’re closely related to sugars—the body burns them for immediate energy, or stores them away as fat. The Solanux team, including members from Washington State University and the Univeristy of Idaho, makes patented potato ingredients with a high level of something called resistant starch, which acts more like fiber in the digestive system.

—Finalist Prize, $5,000: LodeSpin Labs. Researchers say a relatively new technique called Magnetic Particle Imaging has the potential to replace CT scans and MRI for some medical patients. Invented by Phillips, the technique uses magnetic nanoparticles that can be injected into the bloodstream and then read by scanners, giving a real-time, 3D view of the body’s inner workings. LodeSpin Labs, from the UW, makes tracers that can be used in this technology.

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