Allen Park — An Ann Arbor-based company designing an unmanned flying vehicle to transport medicine and blood samples in countries without safe roads won a local competition, bringing the inventors one step closed to $50,000 in startup funding.
A panel of Metro Detroit venture capitalists chose Vayu as the winner of the first Hardware Cup, a innovation competition hosted by Tech Shop Detroit. Six start-ups presented their products for four minutes in the hopes of being chosen to compete at the national level.
Vayu's mission is to increase access of goods to people in the developing world. The idea is that using a mobile device, the user would drop a pin where they want to send the drone and medicine or other materials would be delivered.
Luis Ordonez, studying for a master's in business administration at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and the company's representative at the competition, said he envisions piloting the drones in India, where regulations are more relaxed than in the United States. He said it could be used to pick up blood samples from villages to hospitals in the cities.
Ordonez said the victory was heartening encouraging.
"It's a lot of encouragement. It's good to know that after being studied by five smart people, they're supporting us," he said. "It gives you more reason to work harder."
Wednesday's event was the first in a series of regional competitions at Tech Shop locations across the country. The incubator space, which began with in Pittsburgh, helps hardware entrepreneurs from idea to prototype.
The winners from the eight locations across the United States will compete against each other for $50,000 in venture capital funding from Startbot, a firm that invests in robotics startups.
Among the ideas presented Wednesday were a box printer that can print any shape box using the same device, a tracking chip used to help find firefighters who get trapped in burning buildings and a "smart" toothbrush that connects to an app and tells the user how well they are doing.
Each company came in at different levels of development. For example, TRAC, a Chicago-based company, has created a device to track runner times in real time. They plan to market the device to high school and college track and field teams.
"It costs us a thousand to manufacturer," said co-founder and CEO Griffin Kelly. "We've had to approach investors, and they are hesitant because it is a niche market."
John Osborne of Aircastle Enterprises is already selling his box machine, which he created using the tools at Tech Shop's location in Allen Park. He said having that support has been an important part of his business plan.
"I used the abrasive water jet and lasers (to create the parts)," said Osborne. "And they don't exactly fit in my basement."