Business Ideas With Solid Revenue Prospects Win Contest

Three student startups received cash awards at the UT Dallas Business Idea Competition.

business ideas

After watching his younger brother suffer from anaphylactic shock while undergoing an allergy skin test, Benjamin Rubanov was determined to develop a safer, effective test. It was an idea that led to a first-place finish at the UT Dallas Business Idea Competition finals.

Rubanov and Samir Rahi, both UTD freshmen, won $15,000 for a business concept they call Skin Aware. Their product detects allergic reactions using much smaller doses of allergens than other tests now on the market.

Based on patent-pending technology developed by Dr. Walter Voit at the UT Dallas Alan G. MacDiarmid NanoTech Institute, Skin Aware employs nanoliter-size doses. Other tests involve allergens measured in milliliters — quantities much higher than those in naturally occurring exposures. The lower dose reduces the risk of serious side effects such as the shock Rubanov’s brother experienced.

Rubanov and Rahi prevailed over six teams at the 10th annual contest organized by the Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Naveen Jindal School of Management. The 2016 competition was made possible by sponsors Axxess, DFW Excellerator, Polsinelli, and Silicon Valley Bank.

The judging panel included three UT Dallas alumni —  John Olajide, a 2016 UT Dallas Distinguished Alumni Award recipient and Axxess president and CEO; Michael Peticolas, who owns and operates Peticola’s Brewing Company; and Heidi Rasmussen, co-founder and COO of freshbenies. Her husband, Reid Rasmussen, co-founder and CEO of freshbenies; and Chris Dahlander, founder and CEO of Snappy Salads, rounded out the panel.

This year, judges focused on viability, looking for a clearly defined market opportunity or unmet need, a revenue-generating business model, and a unique value proposition that included benefits and competitive advantages.

Second place went to Unibees, an app that has been used by UT Dallas students for the past several months to find free food at campus events. Abinav Varma Kalidindi, Sanjay Kurani, and Chandra Kiran Achanta, all Jindal School graduate students, collected a $5,000 second-place prize.

“It was less about technology and more about good old-fashioned business knowledge.”


Jindal School graduate students Tom Hauser and Brandon Burgess took third place and $2,500 in prize money for Geekstyr, a dating/community platform that caters to geeks and nerds.

Even though most teams had a heavy technological focus, Heidi Rasmussen said technology did not play a role in determining winners.

“It was more about what products best told us who their target market was,” she said. “The winners best proved the point that it was a viable product for that market and that they could access that market through a marketing plan of some sort. It was less about technology and more about good old-fashioned business knowledge.”

Other finalists were:

  • Converse VR, which offers virtual and augmented reality games and experiences for middle and high school students to improve skills and engagement through experiential learning.
  • Dallas Central, a multiuse community and activity space near downtown Dallas.
  • IcingAid, a reusable 3-D cake decorating tool.
  • TXpertise, an online tool that helps technical experts, IT recruiters, and managers share, skill match, validate, search for, and manage professional certifications.

Follow the UT Dallas Jindal School of Management on Twitter at @jindal_utdallas.

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