Meet the 2017 MN Cup Grand Prize Winner

October 10, 2017

MHTA — MN Cup, the nation’s largest statewide entrepreneurial contest, has announced MicroOptx, Inc. as its 2017 grand prize winner. The Life Science/Health IT division champion, MicroOptx, was awarded the $50,000 grand prize at the 13tth annual MN Cup awards celebration. The winning venture was revealed at a ceremony Monday evening, Oct. 9, at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center. The Autonomous Tractor Corporation won second place at the awards ceremony, with a $20,000 prize.

MicroOptx is a medical device company that makes implants for halting the progression of glaucoma. Glaucoma, a disease of the optic nerve, is the world’s leading cause of irreversible blindness. MicroOptx’s breakthrough Brown Glaucoma Implant has put a stop to vision loss in animals by reducing pressure on the optic nerve and redirecting fluid to the eye’s surface.

The innovative med tech startup relies on an implant invented by Dr. J. David Brown, the former chief of ophthalmology at the Minnesota Veterans Administration and an experienced glaucoma surgeon.  MicroOptx CEO Chris Pulling founded the company with Brown, Roy Martin, and finance partner Keith Bares.

Runner-up Autonomous Tractor Corporation, in the Food/Agriculture/Beverage division, is bringing the ingenuity and efficiency of the self-driving vehicle era to farming equipment. The company’s suite of innovations will allow existing agricultural equipment, an expensive investment for farmers, to be retrofitted for automation.

MN Cup is the country’s largest statewide new venture competition —supporting and accelerating the development of breakthrough business ideas across Minnesota. The competition is free to enter and encourages applications from a wide range of businesses, entrepreneurs and inventors. More than 13,000 Minnesotans have participated in MN Cup since it began in 2005. Finalists have gone on to raise more than $230 million in capital to support the development of their ideas, create jobs, and broker numerous business partnerships, collaborations and distribution agreements.

  • Carlson Family Foundation awarded $25,000 to the top woman-led business: KinoSol
  • Meda/JP Morgan Chase awarded $20,000 to the minority entrepreneur with the most innovative business concept: UnderRecruited Preps
  • Securian Financial Group awarded $10,000 for an innovation that shapes the future of financial services or life insurance through technology: Dose Health
  • Capella awarded $10,000 to the most innovative education technology that promotes learning solutions or builds 21st century skills: UR Turn
  • DEED awarded $10,000 to the next most innovative idea led by a minority entrepreneur: Extempore
  • DEED awarded $10,000 to the most innovative idea from Greater Minnesota: Team Genius
  • DEED awarded $10,000 to the most innovative idea led by a veteran: Recovree
  • Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation provided $5,000 cash grant award to a startup from their region: UnderRecruited Preps
  • AARP awarded $5,000 prize for an innovation that improves the lives of seniors: GogyUp

The thirteenth annual MN Cup kicked off this spring, when 1300 hopeful entrepreneurs in 520 teams entered the contest. Entrants submitted business ideas for consideration in one of eight divisions: Energy/Clean Tech/Water, Food/Agriculture/Beverage, General, High Tech, Life Science/Health IT, Impact Ventures, Student (for enrolled graduate school or undergraduate students ages 19-30) and Youth (age 18 and younger). This year, thirty-seven percent of entries overall were from women-led teams, and twenty-nine percent were led by minorities.

The eighty teams that made it to the semifinalist stage spent the summer meeting with experienced mentors to perfect business plans and learn how to pitch their ideas to a larger audience. Some divisions offered semifinalists the opportunity to pitch to actual investors and startup accelerators. The semifinalists recently participated in presentation coaching to gain a new set of skill crucial for turning great ideas into well-funded businesses.

In addition to winning $30,000 as the Life Science/Health IT division winner in August, as the grand prize winner, MicroOptx claimed an additional $50,000 in seed capital and a number of professional services and other benefits to help build its business. Each division winner (except in the 18-and-under Youth division) receives $30,000 to invest in its breakout business idea. Division runners-up receive $5,000.

The eight MN Cup finalists in competition for the grand prize were:

Energy/Clean Tech/Water: Sironix Renewables, Ramsey County
Food/Ag/Beverage: Autonomous Tractor Corporation, Wright County
General:  Z Flow Pro, Dakota County, woman-led
High Tech: Starting 11, Hennepin County, woman-led
Life Science/Health IT: MicroOptx, Inc., Hennepin County
Impact Ventures: Venn Foundation, Ramsey County
Student: UnderRecruited Preps, Blue Earth County, minority-led
Youth: Green Garden Bakery, Hennepin County, woman-led, minority-led

“It’s been an extraordinary MN Cup season, and we’re so proud of the progress and vision shown by all our brilliant competitors,” said Melissa Kjolsing Lynch, executive director, MN Cup. “It’s been a thrill to witness the excitement of our participants and the interest in our contestants from outside investors, some with a national profile! As we wrap up our 13th year, we’re marveling at how many thousands of Minnesotan entrepreneurs have passed through our program and discovering new ways to extend the opportunities of entrepreneurship to fresh faces.“

More than 13,000 Minnesotans have participated in MN Cup since it began. Finalists have gone on to raise more than $230 million in capital to support the development of their ideas, create jobs, and broker numerous business partnerships, collaborations and distribution agreements.

The MN Cup is a free, annual competition that seeks to support and accelerate the development of the best breakthrough ideas from across the state. For more information, please visit mncup.org.

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