ARMS Cyber takes top prize in the “Student Edition Pitch Competition” at “36|86”

“Build” was the theme as the second week of the first-ever “36|86 Entrepreneurship Festival,” organized by Launch Tennessee, kicked-off yesterday morning.

The day featured sessions on public policy, alternative capital, branding, and building to weather a storm. Probably the highlight for most attendees was the late afternoon “Student Edition Pitch Competition” that featured eight student start-ups from four universities.

So, you are probably wondering, “Who won?” The answer is ARMS Cyber from Vanderbilt University. The start-up leverages moving target defense to proactively prevent vulnerability discovery in the first place took the top prize of $20,000. In his pre-recorded pitch, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer Patrick Musau said the company has four patents and engaged more than 100 customers in the National Science Foundation I-Corps discovery process. The other Co-Founders are Tim Potteiger and Bradley Potteiger.

Second place and $20,000 went to BrantleyMarie Medical Devices Inc., a company founded by Libby Baldwin and Daniel Hines, students at Tennessee Tech University. It is medical device company with a goal of placing life-saving products in the hands of practitioners across the country. The first product involves intubation, something that they said occurs 50 million times a year. Third place and $10,000 went to WhatNxt, another Vanderbilt start-up that provides a social, confident and effortless way for travelers to create, optimize, and share travel experiences using a content-sharing platform.

Other finalists were Metris from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville (UTK); Shades, another Vanderbilt student start-up; The Beachy Clean, another UTK competitor; from the University of Memphis; and Working Women Design Co., the second TTU entrant. (Click on their logos at this link to learn more about each competitor.)

Public Policy Important.

One of yesterday’s sessions that was truly music to our ears was brief in length but strong on its message that hopefully resonated with entrepreneurs who tuned-in. It’s about a drum that I have beaten for many years, and one that Launch Tennessee and many of its network partners also encourage.

What’s the topic? It’s advocacy for the start-up community among policymakers at the federal, state and local levels. Probably the most visible event at the state level is the annual “Day on the Hill” where representatives of Launch Tennessee, Life Science Tennessee, and the Tennessee Advanced Energy Business Council meet with state legislators.

To quote Tip O’Neill, a former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, “All politics is local.” That means the views of real voters, if enough join an effort, mean more than the views of those hired to advocate for a topic.

“It takes time to engage in policy discussions, but there’s also a cost to not being engaged,” said Jason Wiens, Policy Director at the Kauffman Foundation. Noting that the rate of entrepreneurship across the country has been flat for two decades, he said policymakers have been more attuned historically to bigger business and what I would call the “shiny smokestack” that might be recruited to a community.

That picture is changing due to the ravages of COVID-19 on small businesses.

Wiens noted that the Kauffman Foundation issued a new report in the Fall of 2019 titled “Start Us Up . . . America’s New Business Plan(see article here.) The four-pillar report was described as a roadmap “for policymakers who want to do something to help entrepreneurs.”

No one anticipated the arrival of the novel coronavirus just a few months later nor the impact it would have on lives. Now, the Foundation has issued a follow-on report titled “Rebuilding Better . . . Activating the Start Us Up Coalition in Response to COVID-19.” It draws from the earlier report, but has both short-term and longer term recommended actions.

Wiens urged individuals to become involved in the Start Us Up Now initiative. I would add join the “Day on the Hill” next February in Nashville.

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