Student biotech startup ‘Engage’ wins $15,000

Engage-teamPULLMAN, Wash. – Twenty-four teams of college entrepreneurs shared their innovations over the weekend in the 14th annual Business Plan Competition hosted by the Carson College of Business at Washington State University. Five of the state’s best high school teams competed in a separate track.

The top five college teams and top four high school teams were awarded prize money. The college team Engage won first place and $15,000. BPR Homeowner Services from Mead High School in Spokane, Wash., won first place and $5,000.

The teams’ innovative business ideas included a safety mechanism to prevent infection in reusable medical vials, rural communication networks to ensure safe transport to maternal health clinics in the developing world, unique ways to advertise to college students and systems to ensure transparency in college sports recruiting.

“This year’s groups of entrepreneurs, and their ideas, were the best I’ve seen yet,” said Andy Barrett, founding partner of Toolbox and a competition judge. “It is a great time to be a student entrepreneur and innovator. Our young adults are changing the world.”

Next generation of entrepreneurs, leaders

Engage develops medical technologies for use in developing countries to prevent sickness and death that result from reuse of needles in medication and vaccine administration. Their prototype, SafeShot, is a lid that attaches to multi-use medicine injection vials to sterilize the needle each time it enters the vial. SafeShot’s sterilizing liquid stops the spread of common contaminates such as Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and HIV.

College winners Katherine Brandenstein, left, and Emily Willard are cofounders of Engage and won with the prototype for their product SafeShot.

WSU competitors were joined by teams from international partner institutions: Nelson Mandela African Institute of Science and Technology in Arusha, Tanzania; Cèsar Ritz Colleges in Brig, Switzerland; and Southwestern University of Finance and Economics in Chengdu, China.

A gala dinner Friday included a keynote address by Leen Kawas, chief executive officer of M3Biotech, a company focusing on research and innovation for treating Alzheimer’s disease.

“She mentioned that we need more strong women in engineering and entrepreneurship. We agree,” said Katherine Brandenstein, co-founder of Engage. “We hope to encourage more young women to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) and entrepreneurship-related fields.”

“Not only does the competition prepare the students to be the next generation of great entrepreneurs, but the practical application and hands-on learning purposefully built into the competition prepare them to be the next generation of great business and community leaders as well,” said Marie Mayes, director of the WSU Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Winning teams listed

Academic and industry professionals judged teams on presentation, development of a solution for a customer problem, value proposition, competitive advantages, market and sales strategy, management, financials and investment analysis. The teams were also evaluated on the merit of their ideas and business plans.

Carson College of Business Dean Chip Hunter, left, with high school winners Bret Poffenroth and Connor Rickey and Marie Mayes, director of the WSU Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.

In addition to sponsoring the grand prizes, the Herbert B. Jones Foundation also sponsors merit awards worth $2,500 each for best written plan, best presentation, best technology venture and best social impact business. In addition to the $60,000 in prize money, several teams had the opportunity to receive in-kind legal consultations from Lee & Hayes, a law firm in Spokane, Wash.

The winning teams are:


1. Engage
2. Protium Innovations
3. VB Cardio
4. Maggie Cares
5. Fire and Ice Swords LLC
6. Split Tech Innovations

High school:

1. BPR Homeowner Services
2. Gamr
3. Duck Soup It
4. GiGo

Merit Prizes:

• Best written plan: Protium Innovations
• Best presentation: Protium Innovations
• Best technology venture: nomAD
• Best social impact business: Engage