Small topic, big discovery: An enterprising company has designs on impacting fashion with customizable buttons.
While at a nautical-themed wine tasting, friends Alexandra Gramatikas and Trip Driskell found themselves in a deep discussion over a relatively small topic: buttons.
“We started talking about how great it would be if blazers and other articles of clothing could be more customizable,” recalls Gramatikas. “A light bulb went on when we realized we could do this with buttons.”
Thus, the duo founded ALTR, a company specializing in customizable button covers.
In spring 2012, Gramatikas entered the duo’s button cover idea in the UCF Joust Business Plan Tournament. She was awarded first place for the idea and a well-written business plan. With her prize of $10,000 and a one-year residency in the UCF Business Incubation Program, Gramatikas created the company’s first round of inventory.
Currently, ALTR sells UCF and University of Florida button covers. UF buttons were added to ALTR’s Collegiate Covers line in July. “This is a thrilling time for us because football season is coming up, and students love to represent their teams at games,” says Gramatikas. “We’re really excited to see how the product takes off within the UCF and UF communities.”
Also, the company is partnering with Susan G. Komen, the world’s largest breast cancer organization, to sell pink buttons for breast cancer awareness. For every one sold, ALTR will donate $1 of the proceeds to Susan G. Komen. In addition, ALTR will be working with UCF in the planned 2014 Cure Bowl, where it hopes to sell special button covers to benefit breast cancer research foundations.
A graduate of UCF’s MBA program, Gramatikas is grateful for her experience with the UCF Joust Business Plan Tournament. “Winning the Joust competition has been one of our greatest accomplishments. We are so thankful for all the opportunities it has provided. “We’ve felt supported every step of the way. We couldn’t have made it to this point without the assistance from the UCF community.”
Graphene’s New Wonder
A UCF researcher has developed a proprietary method for making graphene—an element some have described as the “wonder material” of the century—accessible to industry.
The technique, which the university recently licensed to UCF spinout Garmor Inc., uses a combination of chemical and mechanical processes to break down graphite, found in pencil lead, into graphene. Garmor worked with UCF’s Office of Technology Transfer to commercialize the technology developed by Richard Blair, a chemist in UCF’s NanoScience Technology Center, and David Restrepo, a doctoral student.
Graphene, a material measuring one atom in width, offers unique strength and elasticity and is superior in its ability to conduct electricity and heat. By adding a small amount of graphene during the production process, makers of plastic, rubber and metal can manufacture products far lighter and stronger. Blair’s technique has the potential to transform manufacturing of everything from car bumpers and truck bed liners to airplanes and bridges.
The new technology allows Garmor to make a graphene additive for a fraction of the cost, formerly up to $200,000 a kilogram, and market the product for use in electrical, thermal and structural components.. Because graphene is an ultra-light, performance-enhancing material, manufacturers also stand to gain by reduced shipping costs.
The company plans to expand its production capabilities and is expected to open a new facility near the Orlando International Airport in August. There are eight full-time employees, but more are expected to be on the way following the move.
Weathering the Storm
A&E Network’s latest cross-platform initiative, “Project Startup”features emerging companies seeking seed money and funding to help their mission. One such company is World Housing Solution—selected by A&E as one of three startup companies to participate in the show, which debuted in April.
World Housing Solution, based in Central Florida, is a client of the Florida Cleantech Acceleration Network, which links Florida-based universities, incubation networks, investors and industry resources to create a network of Proof of Concept centers.
These centers translate the creation and commercialization of innovative clean technology research into new technology companies or license them into existing firms.
According to an A&E press release, the network will partner with RocketHub, an online crowd-funding platform, “to identify key entrepreneurs who have current projects in development on RocketHub’s platform that reflect the network’s commitment to the new entrepreneurial spirit.”
A&E offers selected companies seed money and exposure on all of its on-air and online outlets.
World Housing Solution CEO Ron Ben-Zeev co-founded the company during the aftermath of Haiti’s catastrophic 2010 earthquake. He assembled a team of innovators and developed shelters incorporating structural insulated composite panels.
“I challenged my team to come up with a reusable, rigid tent that could provide safety and security to inhabitants and be earthquake- and hurricane-resistant,” notes Ben-Zeev.
World Housing Solution has since started manufacturing strong and durable structures using phenolic resin and fiberglass panels. The outer shell of the panels allows the structures to withstand mold, mildew, termites, fires, earthquakes of up to 7.8 in magnitude and Category 4 hurricanes.
The company works closely with the U.S. Navy, having developed a prototype structure at Camp Shelby in Mississippi, which has weathered several hurricanes and tropical storms. The U.S. Navy also serves as a conduit for supplying structures to the South Pacific Island of Palau and the Horn of Africa.
Celebrating Business Incubation
The UCF Business Incubator – Daytona Beach International Airport, a partnership among Volusia County, the University of Central Florida and the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, celebrated its second anniversary in late July—appropriately enough, with the launch of the Fusion Fitness Designs firm, the new Daytona Incubator Research Library and a co-working space initiative.
Additionally, Daytona Beach Site Manager Connie Bernal was recognized for her contribution to economic development by being selected one of the top “30 Influential Women in Business from Volusia and Flagler” counties, an honor by the Volusia/Flagler Business Report, a monthly publication of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Eye On The Google Lunar XPrize
UCF alumnus Ruben Nunez is on a mission.
Captivated by an emerging industry of space exploration called NewSpace, Google teamed with XPRIZE to create the Google Lunar XPRIZE—a $30 million competition that challenges private companies to place a robot on the moon’s surface that explores at least 500 meters and then transmits high-definition videos and images back to Earth. The first team to do so will claim the grand prize.
Nunez wants to win it.
Inspired, Nunez founded Orlando-based Earthrise Space to make space exploration accessible to the public while addressing the nation’s need for a revamped and more economically sound space industry model. To make it happen, he harnessed the technological prowess and creative imaginations of more than 40 UCF students and seasoned industry veterans. Earthrise Space is the only Florida-based team competing.
Already, Earthrise Space, signed its first lunar payload client, Chilean-based AngelicvM. The UCF Business Incubation Program has donated workspace, along with other valuable resources. UCFBI – Winter Springs client CAMCAD Technologies donated use of its software to help streamline the company’s manufacturing processes. Earthrise Space has partnered with NASA’s Swamp Works under a federal Space Act Agreement to seek and develop innovative new solutions for space exploration. Plus, Earthrise Space has generated an impressive list of other partners and sponsors, including National Instruments, Mydea Technologies, Rapid Machining and Stratasys.
The company’s student-based business model allows it to operate without many of the obstacles and restraints experienced by larger, more bureaucratic firms. In effect, this provides Earthrise with a competitive advantage during a time when the space industry is focused on efficient, cost-effective approaches to space exploration.
There’s much work ahead, but Nunez and Earthrise Space appear ready for take-off.