UVA Entrepreneurs Pick Up New Funding at Tom Tom Competitions

The Nostrajamus team makes its pitch at last year’s Galant Challenge.

Editor’s Note: AgroSpheres walked away as the overall winner of Friday’s Entrepreneurship Cup. They earned a total of $22,500 as the first-prize winners and the recipients of the audience favorite award. Tara Raj and Morgan Murray of AsyncTalent took second place and $15,000. Jack Ross came in third with his company Notable Music, earning $10,000. All three participants in the Galant Challenge received commitments of at least $100,000 and left the stage with plans to continue working with the investors on additional deals. In total, the three companies participating in the Challenge – Contraline, Social Safeguard, and Typezero – were connected with nearly $1,500,000 in funding, pending further diligence and conversations.


On Friday night, Wahoo entrepreneurship takes center stage at the Tom Tom Founders Festival. The University of Virginia will host two simultaneous start-up competitions at the Paramount Theater: the UVA Entrepreneurship Cup and the Galant Challenge.

The launch stage of the Entrepreneurship Cup is the third and final phase of a yearlong competition for aspiring UVA entrepreneurs. It’s open to all undergraduates, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, with total prizes available on Friday approaching $50,000 in cash awards and in-kind resources. The winning venture has the chance to walk away with up to $22,500 in funding.

The Galant Challenge will take place during the break while the Entrepreneurship Cup judges deliberate. The challenge is a “Shark Tank”-style event with the goal of connecting promising ventures with potential capital. It’s open to all graduates of UVA and individuals who are otherwise affiliated with the University. To date, the challenge has connected participating ventures with greater than $1 million in capital.

Before all the pitching begins, UVA Today has a preview of the competing ventures.

The Entrepreneurship Cup

Six teams are competing in the 2016 Entrepreneurship Cup with ventures that span across a wide range of markets.

UVA School of Engineering and Applied Science undergraduates Payam Pourtaheri and Ameer Shakeel are proposing a new one-of-a-kind agriculture product. AgroSpheres are made from environmentally friendly biological particles that, when applied to crops, degrade residual pesticides on the surface of produce. It removes the need for long intervals in between pesticide application and harvest, allowing farmers to harvest on their own schedule and create safer conditions for field workers.

“It takes between one and two hours after application to be effective,” said Pourtaheri.

While AgroSpheres is proposing a new approach to harvest management, two other participants are offering new digital tools for business management. Fourth-year College of Arts & Sciences students Tara Raj and Morgan Murray have created a software tool to help recruiters streamline the hiring process. AsyncTalent automates the screening and interviewing processes and collects granular data about candidates that helps companies identify the best choice.

Fellow competitor and fourth-year student in the McIntire School of Commerce, Garrett Allen, is pitching a management platform for real estate sales and rentals called AirSurve. It includes a real-time dashboard with all aspects of a property’s listing and tools for offline management of listings and rental properties.

Moving from management to finances, members of the Market Intellex team have built a new hedge fund model they think will impress the judges.

“We’re taking a new approach that’s based off of sentiment research,” said Market Intellex co-founder Miles Shah, a second-year commerce student.

He and his teammates have built a program that aggregates sentiment data – positive or negative language – found in thousands of online articles about stocks. They then use an algorithm to predict how stocks will fare based on the chatter about them. Market Intellex will make investments based on these predictions.

First-year Darden students Samuel Boochever and Max Huc are presenting a venture that trades on a different type of capital – social capital. Their social media platform, Kinect, allows users to bid on one-on-one videochat conversations with their favorite influencers. Influencers would include celebrities and popular experts in their fields.

“What makes us stand out is the scalability potential of our concept,” Boochever said. “The social media platforms out there that have been successful have been hugely successful.”

Kinect plans to donate 1 percent of all bidding proceeds to charity and influencers have the option to keep or donate their portion of the proceeds.

The final competing team, Notable Music LLC, uses interactive technology to teach users to play the guitar. Notable Music aims to “gamify” the musical education experience with a system that can run through any Internet-connected device and that provides feedback and guidance as users learn to play popular music.

“You might say we’ve developed a kind of ‘Guitar Hero’ [video game] for real guitar,” said Jack Ross, Notable Music’s co-founder and a second-year engineering student.

The Galant Challenge

As the Entrepreneurship Cup judges deliberate, participants in the Galant Challenge will take the stage in the hopes of winning over investors.

“The challenge has been a part of the Tom Tom Festival since 2012, and past participants have gone on to be very successful following the investments they received here,” said David Touve, director of the Galant Center for Entrepreneurship and an assistant professor in the McIntire School of Commerce.

The 2016 contestants include the male contraception company Contraline, the comprehensive social media compliance and management platform Social Safeguard, and TypeZero, the developers of the inControl Diabetes Management Platform.

They’ll be pitching their ventures to a panel of five investors, including the Galant Challenge’s namesake, Mark Galant, a 1980 graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce and the founder of Tydall Holdings.

“We’re into the phase where we’ve built the solution and we’re serving a bunch of customers and now we’re looking to scale. The Galant Challenge was a great opportunity to do that,” said Social Safeguard co-founder Jim Zuffoletti. He and fellow co-founder Otavio Freire are both 2005 graduates of the Darden School of Business.

Social Safeguard helps companies manage their social media accounts to ensure that they are compliant with all industry regulations. It works primarily with clients in highly regulated industries like financial services, health care and life sciences, but would like to expand its reach.

While Social Safeguard wants to expand its business, Contraline is hoping to garner investors to add to its first round of funding. The company’s non-surgical male contraception solution is in the early stages of development.

“We have proof-of-concept of our echogenic vaso-occlusive device, and that the whole procedure can be done non-surgically using an ultrasound. We’re almost ready to start pre-clinical testing on rats,” said Kevin Eisenfrats, Contraline’s co-founder and a 2015 Engineering School graduate.

Like Contraline, TypeZero is also built on UVA research. Co-founder and chief mathematician Boris Kovatchev, who founded UVA’s Center for Diabetes Technology, has spent the last 20 years advancing the field of diabetes management. TypeZero’s product is a smartphone-based artificial pancreas system that automatically controls insulin delivery and offers advice and analytics to the user.

The company’s CEO and co-founder, Chad Rogers, is a graduate of the Commerce School and will present on TypeZero’s behalf.

As each group makes its case to the investors, attendees will have the opportunity to experience what a real “pitch meeting” is like and hear the types of questions and negotiations that take place.

Both the Entrepreneurship Cup and the Galant Challenge are free and open to the public. The first round of pitching begins at 5:30 p.m.

Media Contact

Katie McNally

University News Associate Office of University Communications