New Venture Development instructors and UNCL team members pose with their winnings at the Ivey Business Plan Competition in Ontario, Canada. From left: David Hinton, Michael Burton, Clayton Woodruff, Payton Lenz and Sarah Goforth.
A graduate student entrepreneurship team from the U of A won first place in Canada’s prestigious Ivey Business Plan Competition, securing $20,000 to put toward their innovative solution of deterring bicycle theft without the need for a bike lock.
UNCL Co., short for Universal Network Controlled Lock, is an app-enabled security device that retrofits to public bike racks, allowing riders to secure and monitor their bikes without the burden of carrying a heavy lock.
UNCL is the third U of A team to win the competition, held this year from Jan. 20-21 at the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship at the University of Western Ontario. Previous U of A winners include Learning Differentiate ED and Picasolar in 2012 and 2013, respectively.
UNCL emerged from the New Venture Development course sequence in the Sam M. Walton College of Business. The team formed when the four co-founders met in the NVD class, where CEO Michael Burton recruited them to work on his idea for a micromobility security solution, said Sarah Goforth, executive director of the Office of Entrepreneurship of Innovation.
The other founders are Chris Roderick, Payton Lenz and Clayton Woodruff, all executive MBA students.
A year-long, hands-on business incubation program for graduate students, NVD allows students to pursue a startup idea in a hands-on, team-based environment. The courses constitute the entrepreneurship track of the full-time Master of Business Administration and executive MBA programs. Non-business students participate in the courses by pursuing the graduate certificate in entrepreneurship.
“Some students enter the New Venture Development program with an interest in entrepreneurship but no particular idea, while others have a back-of-the-napkin concept or early-stage technology they are interested in exploring,” said Goforth, who oversees the program and teaches the courses alongside David Hinton, associate director of Technology Ventures.
“Michael joined a handful of students we’ve worked with over the last few years who arrived on day one with a passionate determination to solve a problem that he had personally experienced as an avid cyclist,” Goforth said.
“That passion for the problem, shared across a hard-working and talented team of co-founders, is what competition judges — and real-world investors and business partners — look for.”
Those experiences in NVD were “vital” to UNCL’s success in Canada, according to Burton.
“NVD forced us to become intimate with the ‘pain’ and empathize with our customers before creating a product,” Burton said. “Novelty and innovation are meaningless if they aren’t solving the right problem for the people experiencing it.”
UNCL plans to use its funding to finalize a digital prototype and progress to its minimum viable product, Burton said.
“Renderings are great, but the cash will bring our device to life,” Burton said.
After developing their initial business model over the course of the fall semester, UNCL applied to and was admitted into the Greenhouse Outdoor Recreation Program (GORP), OEI’s flagship business incubation program. UNCL is the first NVD team to be accepted into the incubator. UNCL joins four other cycling companies, and another geared toward rock-climbing, in GORP’s Spring 2023 cohort.
Winning the competition in Canada has only “added fuel to our already burning flame,” Burton said.
About the U of A Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation:The Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation creates and curates innovation and entrepreneurship experiences for students across all disciplines. Through the Brewer Family Entrepreneurship Hub, McMillon Innovation Studio, Startup Village, and Greenhouse at the Bentonville Collaborative, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation provides free workshops and programs — including social and corporate innovation design teams, venture internships, competitions and startup coaching. A unit of the Sam M. Walton College of Business and Division of Economic Development, the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation also offers on-demand support for students who will be innovators within existing organizations and entrepreneurs who start something new.