Pitch Competition Showcases Burgeoning Startup Scene in North Texas


Three pitch competitions were rolled into one extravaganza Oscars-style awards ceremony for the 2021 Big Idea Competition (BIC) at The University of Texas at Dallas. The Institute for Innovation and Entrepreneurship hosted the event and punctuated it by conferring more than $400,000 dollars in prize money.

Hannah Davis

Held Nov. 9 in the Edith O’Donnell Arts and Technology building’s Lecture Hall, the ceremony was a joint presentation of UT Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center at which $415,000 was awarded. The ceremony concluded a months-long search for the biggest ideas in North Texas’ bustling entrepreneurship ecosystem. Hannah Davis, host of WFAA Channel 8’s Good Morning Texas show, emceed the event. Ross Perot Jr., chairman of The Perot Group, and Anurag Jain, chairman and CEO of Access Healthcare, were the guest speakers.

Anurag Jain (left)  and  Ross Perot Jr.

Dr. Hasan Pirkul, Caruth Chair and dean of the Naveen Jindal School of Management, opened the festivities by providing the audience with a history of entrepreneurship at UT Dallas, recalling that the Jindal School started the institute in April 2006.

Pirkul said that the Jindal School leadership team created the institute knowing full well that it would eventually move beyond its bounds.

Hasan Pirkul 

“When this institute was created, I did not want it to be a school institute,” he said. “I wanted it to be a University-level institute.”

“This awards ceremony is a celebration of innovation and entrepreneurship at UTD,” he said. “If you look at the quality of the student teams and all the ideas, it’s clear that entrepreneurship and innovation has become a cornerstone in UTD’s culture.”Winners in Three Tracks: Students, Alumni and Research Commercialization

Winners in Three Tracks

BIC contestants from the UT Dallas community included students, alumni and researchers in three tracks: student, alumni and research commercialization. Winners of two other competitions were also announced at the event.

From left: Anurag Jain, Ross Perot Jr., Shashank Vinay Kumar and Richard C. Benson

Shashank Vinay Kumar, a computer science major in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, won $25,000 in the student track for Bonsai, a ticket-resolution and lead-generation tool that uses machine learning.

From left: Austin Howard, Matthew Coburn and Tangible Intelligence senior data engineer Jennifer Trippett

Matthew Coburn and Dr. Austin Howard won $25,000 in the alumni track for Tangible Intelligence, a business-as-a-service platform that uses machine learning to automate businesses’ rote and mundane work. Coburn earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Jonsson School in 2013. Howard earned a master’s degree in physics in 2009 and a PhD in physics in 2014, both from the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

Dr. Joseph Pancrazio, vice president for research at UT Dallas, introduced the Research Commercialization Track and talked about the importance of the relation between innovation and research at the University.

“Many of the stories … that are being generated as a function of the Research Commercialization Award, are ones that we should be very proud of,” he said, “because it’s about moving innovations from the bench towards the marketplace.”

Pancrazio said that, in many ways, the award is “a promise realized, a funding promise that came from the taxpayers and then eventually makes its way to the marketplace and to society.”

From left: Joseph Pancrazio, Stephanie G. Adams, dean of the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science; Walter Voit and Benedict Voit

Brothers Benedict Voit and Dr. Walter Voit won $100,000 in the research commercialization track. Benedict graduated from the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences in 2008 with a double degree in political science and economics. Walter is an associate professor of materials science and engineering and mechanical engineering at the Jonsson School, where he earned a BS in computer science in 2005 and an MS in computer science in 2006. They won for Qualia Oto, a biomedical device company that makes hearing assistance devices. Several other members of the leadership team at the company also have strong ties to UT Dallas.

More Money, More Competitions

Although the UTSW Biotech+ Research Track rounded out the BIC competition offerings, the results were not available at the time of the event. All contestants are researchers at UTSW vying for a $100,000 prize.

Winners from two other competitions were also announced at the ceremony. One — the UTDesign Startup Challenge — is an institute offering in partnership with the Jonsson School. The other — the Capital Factory Biotech+ Challenge — is from event sponsor Capital Factory.