Big business ideas were turned into big prizes in late August as a student team of mechanical engineers from Virginia Tech bested a dozen teams from around the globe to win $25,000 for their idea to create exoskeletons that make lifting easier.

Maroon Assistive Technologies – represented by Tim Pote, Taylor Pesek, and Jack Geissinger, College of Engineering graduate students; and Andrew Bocklund, a senior in the College of Engineering – took home the grand prize Aug. 29 at the annual VT Global Entrepreneur Challenge, hosted by Outreach and International Affairs and VT KnowledgeWorks. The winning team’s prize package consisted of the $15,000 Advanced Manufacturing Award for the most outstanding tangible product plus $10,000 as the overall grand prize winner.

Without using motors or electricity, the exoskeletons support the body while a person performs everyday tasks, helping to reduce fatigue and decrease the risk of overuse injuries. 

“The winning teams pitched ideas that met a societal need with a strong competitive advantage in the marketplace," said Guru Ghosh, vice president for Outreach and International Affairs. "The Global Challenge reflects a diverse set of problems university students are trying to solve from all over the world.”

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Three women and a man stand with a giant check for $15,000.
Don Halliwill (second from left), executive vice president and CFO of Carilion Clinic, a prize sponsor, stands with Team Caressoma, represented by Sophia Borowka, Michelle Koschorke, and Jana Maes. The team from ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland won the $15,000 Information Technology Award for the most outstanding service.

Team Caressoma, from ZHAW Zurich University of Applied Sciences in Switzerland, won the $15,000 Information Technology Award for the most outstanding service. The team, represented by Sophia Borowka, Jana Maes, and Michelle Koschorke, presented a solution to help prevent sports injuries. Using the latest medical technology and machine learning, Caressoma’s idea, called SonIt, helps quantify the occurrence and evolution of injuries.  

Team Real42, from Vienna University of Technology in Austria, was the recipient of the $5,000 People’s Choice award, chosen by audience members. The team’s PropTech startup uses scans and pictures of floor plans that automatically, within minutes, transform to become beautiful visualizations and interactive home-staging experiences. Real42 provides access to floor plan metadata, which can be applied in ways including real estate valuation. The business concept was presented by Thomas Lechinger, David Neubauer, and Felix Haberl.

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Four people stand with giant check.
Ian Leuschner (from left), of Outreach and International Affairs, a prize sponsor, stands with Team Real42, represented by David Neubauer, Felix Haberl, and Thomas Lechinger. Real42, from Vienna University of Technology in Austria, won the $5,000 People’s Choice Award.

Offering $45,000 in cash prizes, the 10th annual Global Challenge was sponsored by Outreach and International Affairs, The Branch Group, Inc.Carilion Clinic, and First Piedmont Corporation. This year’s event included 14 teams and faculty from 12 countries: Australia, Austria, Chile, China, Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Switzerland, Thailand, and the United States.

The competition, held at The Inn at Virginia Tech and Skelton Conference Center, was part of a 10-day celebration of student entrepreneurship. Teams were housed by local families, spent interactive time with successful technology companies, and enjoyed fellowship with Virginia Tech students. Some of the activities included tours of the Virginia Tech campus and Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, educational workshops, and shopping in Roanoke and Blacksburg.

Participants also took trips to Newport News, Danville, and Roanoke.  In Newport News, attendees went to the Virginia Air & Space Center and heard from an entrepreneurship panel at Tech Center Research Park, sponsored by Newport News Economic Development Authority and W.M. Jordan Company. In Danville, key initiatives and regional strengths in advanced machining and computing skills were showcased at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research (IALR), sponsored by IALR, Southern Virginia Regional Alliance, and The Launch Place. In Roanoke, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine hosted a panel and tour highlighting innovation, research, and advances in health care.

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