Texas A&M engineering graduate students' startup wins 2016 Rice Business Plan Competition

April 20, 2016
| By: Shraddha Sankhe

A student team from Texas A&M University, led by engineering Ph.D. students Blake Teipel and Charles “Brandon” Sweeney, won the grand prize at the Rice Business Plan Competition for its startup company TriFusion Devices. The startup has developed customizable, 3-D printed prosthetic leg devices that can be manufactured in hours instead of weeks, and would cost far less than anything on the market. 

The TriFusion Devices team included founders Teipel and Sweeney, graduate students in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Britton Eastburn, a combined medical student at the Texas A&M Health Science Center’s College of Medicine and an MBA student at the Mays Business School.

They pitched their inexpensive, customizable 3-D printed prosthetic device technology to four separate panels of judges that included venture capitalists, angel investors, entrepreneurs, service providers and local business executives. The team developed a carbon nanotube-coated printer filament and a microwave welding process to fuse 3-D printed parts together, making them strong and durable. They can go from scans of a patient geometry to a finished device in less than 48 hours.

The Aggies collected four checks totaling nearly $400,000 at the competition, including the $300,000 Investment Grand Prize from the GOOSE Society of Texas; the $60,000 TiE Angel Investment Prize; the $25,000 Medical Device Accelerator Prize and the $10,000 Pearland Spirit of Entrepreneurship Prize. This was the first time a Texas A&M team won the competition.

More than $1.69 million in prize money was awarded to 42 companies at the event, which is the largest student-centered business plan competition in the world. The TriFusion Devices team beat out student startups from Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, Dartmouth College, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Michigan, and multiple teams from international universities.

“TriFusion Devices has the potential to transform the biomedical device industry, healthcare, military and commercial manufacturing sectors,” said Dr. Ibrahim Karaman, Chevron Professor I and head of materials science and engineering. “Blake and Brandon are role models for other students with entrepreneurial aspirations. They have set a great example in taking research from labs to commercialization.”

"We were so honored to present our technology and business idea at the Rice Business Plan Competition, the world stage for entrepreneurship,” said Sweeney. “TriFusion was especially proud to represent Texas A&M and have the chance to prove that Aggies can compete with and conquer the world’s best universities. Everyone should know that at Texas A&M, we like to break a mental sweat too."

Since spring 2015, Teipel and Sweeney have taken top honors in multiple competitions, winning first place at the Mays Business School’s Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship Raymond Ideas Challenge, the inaugural SEC Pitch Competition in Atlanta and the Baylor Business Plan Competition in February 2016.

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