Sprouting student startup wins $100,000 business contest

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Joe Schwartz

Jason Koski/University Photography
Abhijeet Bais, left, Margo Wu and Brennan Whitaker Duty, all MBA candidates who will graduate in May, won the 2015 New York Business Plan Competition, which carried a $100,000 grand prize.

Germinating from a campus incubator, Uma Bioseed – a startup business developed by Cornell MBA students – has won the 2015 New York Business Plan Competition, besting more than 500 other student-led teams. Winning the competition carried a $100,000 grand prize.

“Winning this competition harkens back to Cornell’s land-grant and ‘any study’ roots, arising from cross-discipline Cornell innovations and leveraged by the business school to help launch it,” said Brennan Whitaker Duty, MBA ’15. Duty, Abhijeet Bais, MBA ’15, and Margaret “Margo” Wu, MBA ‘15, serve as the management team of the new company. As a Cornell-based startup, Uma Bioseed will produce a cost-effective seed coating solution with stabilized organic enzymes to battle viral, fungal and bacterial seed-borne pathogens. The solution can disinfect seeds as they germinate, so that more crops thrive from sown seeds, increasing yield and farm income.

Uma Bioseed deploys a proprietary enzyme packaging technology for agricultural applications from the portfolio of Cornell spinoff ZYMtronix, a company located in Cornell’s Kevin M. McGovern Family Center for the Life Sciences incubator – effectively making Uma Bioseed a Cornell spinoff of a Cornell spinoff. ZYMtronix is pursuing its own applications in the pharmaceutical and chemical industry to enhance productivity in making drugs inexpensive and readily available.

The team was mentored by Alan Taylor, professor of horticulture; Ed Heslop of the Schwartz Heslin Group and executive in residence at the McGovern Center; and Stéphane Corgié, inventor of the technology and CEO at ZYMtronix.

As part of the state’s innovation ecosystem, the sixth annual New York Business Plan Competition, established in 2010, featured more than 500 teams from over 65 colleges in New York, where competitions occurred in all 10 Regional Economic Development Council zones. The top teams from each region advanced to the final round of the statewide competition. SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Colleges of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, University at Albany’s School of Business and Syracuse University hosted the finals April 24 in Albany.

The Uma Bioseed team, which in February won the Mai Bangkok Business Challenge @ Sasin 2015, also won $10,000 in the energy and sustainability category at the New York competition. Another team from Johnson – RightPrice, led by students Rebecca Robinson, MBA ’15, and Derek Mayer, MBA ’15 – won second place ($5,000) in the info tech/software track. RightPrice is an online platform that will offer Airbnb hosts pricing guidance, accounting and tax support that will help them earn more money and save time.

Said Uma Bioseed’s Duty: “Our success – tying together research and development originating at Cornell with entrepreneurial opportunities – hopefully will prompt more business students and innovators to pursue collaboration to commercialize Cornell-developed technologies for true social, environmental and economic impact.”


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Blaine Friedlander