Two early-stage start-up companies, Manser Edbrooke Technology, and Moye Consultants competed for a chance to win two grants that totaled $25,000 at a local TechGrant Pitch Competition. The event was sponsored by Innovation Park, a research and development hub in Tallahassee, Florida. More than 30 companies have benefitted from grants awarded since the program launched in 2005 to support entrepreneurs in Leon County, Florida.
Manser Edbrooke Technology (MET) took home the first-place prize of $15,000, while Moye Consultants received the second-place award of $10,000. Both companies have ties to the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering. Charlie Edbrooke and Patrick Manser are undergraduate students in the department of mechanical engineering and founded MET. Davis George Moye graduated with a doctorate in electrical engineering at the college and established Moye Consultants.
A third company, Blue Ocean Discover was developed by Atilla Sulker, a junior in Electrical Engineering, at the college. Sulker’s start-up was one of the five finalists that competed in the competition. Other finalists included Genetic Biocontrols and Jomoworks.
Moye Consultants founder Davis George Moye developed a software simulation program, Simultaneous Battery and Capacitor Design Tool. The program, coined SiMod, focuses on the energy storage industry. SiMod helps designers to design and then test supercapacitors and batteries without the expense of developing multiple prototypes.
“Machine developers want a battery or supercapacitor customized to their machine’s specific needs,” Moye said. “Toy manufacturers are driven by price; aerospace customers want performance. Materials suppliers want to cut costs for both of them. SiMod helps battery manufacturers to do that.”
Moye explained, “Trial and error battery and supercapacitor prototyping can take time and money. With SiMod only one prototype is needed, and we can design and test before using it in a real application.”
Moye came up with the idea for this business when he worked at General Capacitor, a company that designed and manufactured lithium-ion capacitors.
“Customers often would say they needed a narrowly-tailored energy storage device for their product,” Moye said. “It would take a lot of prototyping to get the product just right. I developed a computer model to help us design lithium-ion capacitors, and after the company closed its doors, I kept working on the idea.”
MET co-founders, Edbrooke and Manser, came up with an idea for a rapid-prototyping printer while taking a tools class in mechanical engineering at the college. They became inspired while building Stirling engines, a class project that required milling. That is when they were introduced to a Haas computer numerical control printer, or CNC machine. The machine uses a subtractive technique to cut material away, similar to a sculptor chipping away at a block of marble. The method requires a highly skilled user.
The students compared the process used with the CNC machine to the 3D printing additive manufacturing technique. According to the entrepreneurs, 3D printing was easier to use and less costly but lacked some capabilities of the more expensive CNC machines. So they began to work towards a solution and came up with a new product to fill the need for rapid prototyping. The process is used in almost every industry, from automotive to high-level hobbyists.
“There are pros and cons of each, but we thought, ‘Why not find a way to build a bridge between the two processes?’” Manser said. “That is what our product is, something midrange, competitive to a 3D printer in price, that has the power, capability and advantage of the subtractive CNC printer.”
MET wants to create an advanced rapid-prototyping printer named, “Firebird,” that combines the versatility of a CNC printer with the affordability, convenience of a 3D printer. They want to sell their machines at a $15,000 price point.
“The money from the Innovation Park award is going to be used to create a physical prototype,” Manser said. “We have already done a lot towards research and development and are sponsoring ourselves as our senior design project through the university.”
The research and development of their project started with a previous competition hosted by the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship. MET participated in the InNOLEvation Challenge and received a $4,000 Spirit of Entrepreneurship Award for its efforts.
“The college, professors and department have been very supportive of us,” Edbrooke said. “We initially started with a Shark Tank competition at the college. Dr. Michael Devine heads up that competition and became a valuable resource for us.”
Edbrooke continued, “We just returned from Milan, Italy, where we participated in a tech conference. The college gave us a scholarship so we could attend that event. Mechanical engineering professors like Dr. Larbalestier and Dr. Hubicki have all been very supportive.”
Manser had some advice for students who want to be entrepreneurs, “Rule number one in business is: If you build something that no one wants, then no one is going to buy it.”
To make sure they had something people wanted, Manser and Edbrooke talked to over 40 professionals in the mechanical industry to get advice. They spoke with local garages, medical professionals, researchers, and automobile suppliers to see if their business plan could be viable. The opportunity was supported in part by a grant from the National Science Foundation Regional Core Program, in partnership with Florida Atlantic University.
“There are more resources than you expect,” Manser said. “The Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship and the program at the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering all point you in the right direction. With the amount of pitch competitions in town, there is no shortage of people, who want to talk to you.”
Moye Consultants’ founder gave this advice, “Find someone who does what you want to do and ask questions. Get a job in the industry you want to be in and learn all about it. Eventually, you will discover a problem in the industry that needs a solution. Figure out how to solve it, then pursue it!”