“There were several that I read and said, ‘I want to invest in this thing,’ which is what a plan is supposed to do.” – Roddy Davis, lawyer.

KERNERSVILLE, N.C. – Helping drug companies hire qualified workers, battling bioterrorism and detecting heart disease were the winning ideas in the Triad Entrepreneurial Initiative’s Verge business plan competition Thursday.

But the squirrel zapper wasn’t far behind.

Verge is the second of three business plan contests sponsored by TEI to encourage the development of new companies in the Piedmont Triad area. Winners this time out collected a total of $36,000 – three $10,000 awards and three $2,000 awards.

Top three prizes went to Cmaxx, EcoGenomix and MRI Cardiac Services.

The other money winners were the Squirrel Defense Initiative, Neurocure and RetinaNet.

Roddy Davis, a lawyer with Adams Kleemeier in Greensboro and a board member for the Piedmont Entrepreneurs Network, helped judge the Verge competition and says he was quite surprised by the quality of the business plans he saw.

“Compared to last year, when they weren’t A-level, they were definitely up a notch or two this year,” Davis says. “There were several that I read and said, ‘I want to invest in this thing,’ which is what a plan is supposed to do.”

TEI Executive Director Sheila Lyons also said she was pleased with the quality and the enthusiasm of the contest participants.

“We are raising the bar in the Piedmont and starting to create the entrepreneurial community,” Lyons said in a statement. “Our goal with TEI is to help these young companies by awarding cash, mentoring from experienced business leaders and owners and offering classes to make sure their business plan is top-notch.”

Davis says the gap between first-place winners and honorable mention wasn’t that large, noting that he thought some of the honorable mentions should have taken home top honors.

“The plans aren’t at the level you see coming out of the Triangle area, but they are moving in that direction,” he says.

Here’s a review of the winning entries:

First-place winners

Cmaxx Corp., Greensboro, Michael Mitchell – Cmaxx aims to be the Monster.com for the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. It has developed a solution it says that can revolutionize the hiring process and address the specific hiring challenges for the industry, using training and development expertise to provide the industry with a process that develops the pharmaceutical sales representatives of the future.

EcoGenomix Inc., Bermuda Run, N.C., Eric Button – A biotechnology spinoff from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, EcoGenomix is developing systems that can rapidly detect the presence of biological and chemical terrorist agents in the environment. The company has already developed tests for anthrax and smallpox, and has created a device called the WaterChip in collaboration with UNCG scientists that represents a new approach to water surveillance in its detection of both anticipated and unanticipated biological and chemical contamination.

MRI Cardiac Services Inc., Winston-Salem, S. Scott Huber – MRI Cardiac Services is in a medical device business offering a turnkey software and hardware solution for the diagnosis of cardiovascular diseases using magnetic resonance imaging technology. A major emphasis of the company will be training and consulting services related to enabling public and private hospitals and private MRI centers internationally to conduct heart studies.

Second-place winners

Neurocure Inc., Winston-Salem, Dr. Nuwan Kurukulasuriya – Neurocure promises to harness the powers of a state-of-the-art high throughput electrophysiology platform combined with proven classical single-cell neurophysiology techniques to provide a rapid means by which epilepsy drug candidates can be assayed in live brain tissue. Kurukulasuriya and his advisory board have 65 years of combined experience in the neuroscience field.

Squirrel Defense Initiative, Greensboro, Bo Haeberle – Squirrel Defense Initiative was founded in 1997 to commercialize a squirrel-proof bird feeder, “The Solar Feeder.” The product utilizes an electric stimulus powered by a solar cell to deter squirrels from feeding. Industry, store owners and customers confirm that electric stimulus is the most effective method of deterrence.

RetinaNet, Winston-Salem, Randall Johnson – RetinaNet will provide integrated technology solutions through in-house software programming and strategic alliances with hardware manufacturers and other service providers to provide a customizable, real-time commerce and communications suite of applications for small and mid-sized physician practices.

Honorable mention awards

Solatech. High Point, Ray Soltis – Solatech is a software development firm specializing in a highly customizable suite of applications for industries comprised of custom products.

CutRateSmokes.com. Greensboro, Chris Gentry – CutRateSmokes.com legally provides discounted cigarettes to smokers who live in states with unusually high prices.

SourceHorizon, Burlington, Perry Gathings – SourceHorizon is developing a web-based platform to enable the buyers of made-to-order parts to quickly identify, qualify and collaborate with suppliers during the outsourcing process.

Interactive Technical Training, Winston-Salem, Susan Sweeney – ITT is going to fill the training void for the logistics industry by stabilizing technology implementations with superior training programs.

Millennium Concepts LLC, Winston-Salem, Thomas Desch – Millennium Concepts has developed an interactive touch-screen kiosk, The Health Information Station, that provides multimedia responses to frequently asked questions on a wide range of health-related topics.

Salzburg Therapeutics, Winston-Salem, William Gmeiner – Salzburg Therapeutics seeks to develop and market a comprehensive line of commercial products for managing a wide range of malignancies, such as colorectal cancer, from diagnosis through long-term survival.

‘Fuel’ Competition is next

TEI’s next business plan competition will be Fuel, where a total of $80,000 will be awarded to local entrepreneurs. The deadline for submitting plans for Fuel is 9 a.m. May 23. More information is available online.

Triad Entrepreneurs Initiative: www.triadlaunchpad.org
Piedmont Entrepreneurs Network: www.pentriad.org