Tatiana Salazar's startup Stem Point won the 2015 UF Big Idea Competition
Tatiana Salazar's startup Stem Point won the 2015 UF Big Idea Competition.

Stem cell therapy startup wins second annual UF Big Idea Competition

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A veterinary medical startup focused on stem cell therapy for competitive horses won the UF Big Idea Competition and its $25,000 grand prize on Friday at Emerson Alumni Hall.

The UF Big Idea Competition, sponsored by the Warrington College of Business Administration’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Innovation (CEI), had 240 entries from graduate and undergraduate students and teams. Last year’s inaugural competition had 140 entrants.

Stem Point—founded by Tatiana Salazar, a doctoral student of genetics & genomics at the UF Genetics Institute— provides customers with state-of-the-art, safer alternatives for the isolation and preservation of stem cells for their showing, racing or companion animals.

Stem Point has developed a new method of stem cell mobilization that allows for the isolation of mesenchymal stem cells directly from the blood, rather than tissue removed from the animal. This makes the procedure faster, safer and virtually painless with all the benefits that are offered through traditional methods.

Salazar, 27, said the roots of Stem Point began during a five-year research project led by Dr. Maria Grant, a former UF researcher now at the University of Indiana. In addition, Salazar said Dr. Huisheng Xie, a professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine, was a key collaborator.

After the team made their findings, Salazar said a gap in the marketplace for this type of service made creating Stem Point intriguing.

“There were almost no offerings for this from veterinary stem cell companies,” Salazar said.

Salazar, originally from San Jose, Costa Rica, said she saw the UF Big Idea Competition advertised in a campus newsletter, and decided “to give it a shot.”

“I just thought it would be a great opportunity to get some experience and get the business plan going,” Salazar said. “It was challenging, but exciting.”

Because Stem Point received such positive feedback from the competition’s judges, Salazar said she probably would have sought a small loan to get the company off the ground. That won’t be necessary after winning Friday’s competition.

“It was incredible,” Salazar said. “As you move on in the competition, you always have hope. I know the other teams had great products so it would be difficult. I was elated.”

Salazar said the company should officially launch in a few months.

Immersed Games, founded by UF alumni Ryan and Lindsay Tropf, finished second in the competition, and was awarded $10,000. Immersed Games is an online learning platform for deep, empowering learning experiences. The company bills its offerings as “World of Warcraft for learning,” a virtual world crafted for relevant learning.

Lokire, founded by Stelios Kapantais, Gordian Braun and Nick Bevelock—students in the Thomas S. Johnson Master of Science in Entrepreneurship (MSE) Program—finished in third place and was awarded $5,000. Lokire is an online marketplace where brick-and-mortar stores can post their inventories to help compete against online retail giants such as Amazon.

In addition to the UF Big Idea Competition, CEI honored two alumni entrepreneurs. David Gray (BSBA ’88), founder of Casebriefs, an online study aid platform for law students, received the 2015 Distinguished Alumni Entrepreneur Award. Luke Kemper (BSBA ’05), Owner and Chief Executive Officer of Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville, received the 2015 Emerging Alumni Entrepreneur Award.

CEI was created to teach, coach and inspire students to be entrepreneurial in their lives. CEI provides students the tools and experiences necessary to creatively pursue new opportunities and innovations in the start-up, social, and corporate venture arenas.

Through courses, degree programs and complementary activities such as speakers and workshops, CEI currently serves more than 2,000 students per year.