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Checking in With the 2020 E1 Ignite Cup Winners

As the dust settled on the 2020 E1 Ignite Cup, three startups emerged: Shrpa (first place), a platform for exploring and sharing activities in your local community; Canomiks (second place), a biotech company using genomics and AI to study the, “effect of active ingredients used in dietary supplements and functional foods and drinks;” and CalmConnect (people’s choice), a company dedicated to helping patients during extended hospital stays.

Shrpa is now an automatic semi-finalist in MN Cup and won a $500 cash prize (sponsored by Great North Labs), a half-hour mentoring session from each judge, and a designated spot in ILT Studios’ Startup School Cohort. Canomiks will receive a half-hour mentoring session from each judge.

We touched base with the winners for a quick take on the experience, how they plan to get the most from the mentorship, and what’s next for the business.

Chris Lukenbill — Co-Founder

What does winning the E1 Ignite Cup mean to you and the team?

Chris Lukenbill

We are excited about the opportunities that winning the E1 Ignite Cup opens up to us. That includes our ability to introduce communities throughout Minnesota to Shrpa’s platform through the publicity and networking potential that MN Cup offers.

What kind of advice and input are you going to seek from the mentorship sessions?

We will be looking for advice related to scaling Shrpa as we attempt to prove our model in our initial markets and understand what that looks like as we grow.

What’s next for the company?

A very busy summer! Revitalizing our communities throughout COVID-19 and after will require a focus on local travel and enough information to make people feel safe about their decisions to explore. We built Shrpa to provide that type of detail from the beginning. We are hoping Shrpa can be an answer for a travel industry with a lot of questions right now.

Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk — CEO

What does taking home second place in the E1 Ignite Cup mean to you and the team?

Leena Pradhan-Nabzdyk

First and foremost, this was our (Canomiks) first pitch event in MN and so it was really exciting for us. We are in the midst of moving our operations from Boston to Rochester. So, for us the most important aspect was to get to know the community, ‘meet’ other entrepreneurs and find ways to connect with all stakeholders. Having won the 2nd place in E1 Ignite was of course a proud moment for all of us at Canomiks. It opened a lot of doors especially, with mentors and investors in the MN/Mid-West area.

Also, E1 Ignite and the Red Wing Ignite was very thorough with their follow-up, feedback and connecting with mentors. This is so important. Oftentimes we entrepreneurs pitch the most important thing we are looking for (beyond the prize) is the feedback. Constructive feedback makes our product and business better. So pitching and winning at E1 Ignite was very helpful for us.

What kind of advice and input are you going to seek from the mentorship sessions?

Again, we are new to the area so first we would like to understand the ecosystem better. And Canomiks is in an interdisciplinary space of Nutrition, Wellness, Food Safety, Genomics, and AI. With all the food and agriculture companies in the area like General Mills, Cargill, along with a major safety company like EcoLab, we would love to learn from mentors in this space.

We will also seek guidance around our business strategy, implementation of our services, and how we can engage the overall MN ecosystem. As founders we think we have thought about all the possible scenarios (good and bad) affecting every aspect of our business. But it is always important to seek advice and bring fresh perspective to the problem we are solving. Mentorship, especially in entrepreneurship is absolutely imperative.

What’s next for the company?

Using Genomics, Bioinformatics, and AI, Canomiks is developing a Product Superiority Platform to test the biological effect and superiority of ingredients that are used in dietary supplements, functional drinks & food, and cosmetics & skincare. So, we provide R&D, Product Development and Product Testing services to other companies in the natural product industry. As such, we need a wet lab space. We are moving our operations to Rochester so we are actively seeking lab space in Rochester. We hope to launch our ingredient testing services (service as a product) later this year. With COVID-19, everyone’s focus is on health and wellness and we really want to make an impact with our products and solutions. When we help a company with their product development, we know we are helping the end consumer get products that are scientifically and ethically developed. Our mission is to lead the next gen of wellness, rooted in science, restoring transparency, truth and trust.

Caily Landers — Co-Founder

What does winning the people’s choice in the E1 Ignite Cup mean to you and the CalmConnect team?

Isabel Bettag and Caily Landers

Isabel and I are very appreciative of this opportunity to be a part of the E1 Ignite Cup. We cannot thank the attendees of the competition enough for believing in and voting for CalmConnect. After giving our pitch and winning the people’s choice award, we have gained confidence in CalmConnect, which aims to comfort patients during extended hospital stays, especially during this time of the COVID-19 crisis. This award gives us experience as we move forward in the process of getting our product to market.

What’s next for the company?

As a product in its infant stage, we plan to participate in more pitch competitions in the near future. As business students at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, we will continue to work with our two advisors, Dr. Christine Beech and Matt Klosky. In addition, we are proud to be partnering with the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurship at Saint Mary’s. We hope to develop our prototype and get it into hospitals and nursing homes in the near future. We will continue to work on both developing and producing our product and app so that we can make CalmConnect a part of each and every hospital room!

Alex Skjong
Alex oversees the content produced for BETA, Twin Cities Startup Week, and When he’s not writing or editing, there’s a good chance he’s enjoying a refreshing brew and explaining the merits of heavy metal (of which there are many).