By  Jennifer McManamay
Two guys, one holding a mic
Anthony “A.J.” Peppers (left) and Jacob Swisher, won the top E-Cup Launch! prize of $20,000 for their emergency action plan conversion app, EZ-EAP. (Photos by Andrew Shurtleff)

University of Virginia engineering students nearly made a clean sweep of top prizes at the annual UVA Entrepreneurship Cup Launch! competition on April 18.

Launch! is the last and most comprehensive of the E-Cup’s three stages in which startups with at least one UVA undergraduate, graduate student or postdoctoral fellow on the team compete for seed money to fund their ventures. 

Held at the CODE Building as a part of the Tom Tom Festival — Charlottesville’s perennial celebration of art, music and ideas in which entrepreneurialism is a theme — the event featured 60-second business pitches, followed by feedback from four judges who chose the winners. 

Winning Top Prize Was EZ

For developing a mobile app that could save athletes’ lives during a medical emergency on the field, computer science major Anthony “A.J.” Peppers and his business partner, graduate nursing student Jacob Swisher, won the top Launch! prize of $20,000 for their emergency action plan conversion app.

EZ-EAP takes those unwieldy paper plans, which sports venues across the country are required to have, and puts them into an automated, easy-to-use format.

Peppers was looking for a project when he was introduced to Swisher last year. Swisher had previous experience activating emergency action plans while working in sports medicine.

“I wanted to develop legitimate software that people can use,” Peppers said. “This seemed like a fruitful project.”

Winning wasn’t all about the money, Swisher noted.

“It may seem like that, but it’s about the connections and mentorship we receive, as well as the validation of very accomplished judges from venture capital and different realms of entrepreneurship,” he said. “That’s a big thing in entrepreneurship, keeping you going forward.”

Two guys on stage, one holding a mic
In addition to placing second in the E-Cup judging, Ayush Bhatia (left) and Rohit Rajuladevi’s Moment app was the audience favorite.

This Was Their Moment

Computer engineering and computer science major Rohit Rajuladevi and economics major Ayush Bhatia won $15,000 for Moment, an app that lets users capture memories as complete stories through pictures, videos, text and audio. 

By audience vote, Moment also was the people’s choice — adding $5,000 to their winnings.

“We were overwhelmed with joy,” Rajuladevi said. “It is further validity that our idea is bigger than we originally thought. It strengthened our conviction.”

The E-Cup judges also spend time with the competitors before taking the stage so that they can get deeper understandings of the products, which are evaluated on nine criteria related to establishing a new business. 

Many Launch! participants also compete in and win the E-Cup’s Concept and Discovery phases. Moment was one of those teams.

“The series of E-Cup competitions forced us to better examine and analyze our business from an investor perspective, which led to new insights about our app,” Bhatia said.

Two women holding a giant check
Haeley Wotnosky (left) and Rithika Kormath Anand won the coveted Carr Award, which honors the late Kathy Carr, i.Lab’s revered former director.

Carr Award Winners Go Biomedical

The Darden School of Business i.Lab Incubator’s $25,000 Kathryne Carr Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship also was announced, going to Double Hoo Rithika Kormath Anand, a biomedical engineering alumna who earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UVA, and her partner, 2023 commerce graduate Haeley Wotnosky, for their company Synersia. 

The third-place Launch! winner last year, Synersia is developing a topical numbing cream to make aesthetic surgery safer and more comfortable. The skin numbing cream is meant to be applied in the medical office at the time of a procedure, unlike many existing topical anesthetics that have to be applied beforehand.

“It’s dangerous for the patient to travel with the numbing cream on and to apply it without the guidance of the provider,” Anand said. “Ours also dries as a peel-off film, delivering the active ingredients deeper into the skin and providing a more comfortable experience.”

The partners are getting close to preclinical studies of the product.

Succeeding With Community Support

The year since their subsequent immersion in Darden’s i.Lab Incubator has been a rollercoaster, Anand said. An initiative of Darden’s Batten Institute, i.Lab is a cohort-based summer program from which participants are expected to emerge with a “minimum viable product.”

Anand said having the i.Lab mentor support of Kevin Eisenfratz, a fellow biomedical engineer and i.Lab alumnus, and founder of the male contraceptive company Contraline, helps with the highs and lows of entrepreneurship.

Darden students also shared in the winning. Business graduate students Ellie Jamison and Grace Collins took the $10,000 third-place prize for their pickle ball paddle company, Play Henry. 

A $5,000 honorable mention, new this year, was awarded to Mom’s Magic. Darden student Darshan Savalia, who graduates this year, presented a line of spices for making easy, four-step authentic Indian meals.

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