MICA’s UP/Start Venture Competition meant progress and funding for these 8 startups

More than $100,000 was awarded at Wednesday night's finals for students and recent alumni. Here's a look at the teams exploring new approaches in VR, painting and the future of work — some with social mission in mind.

MICA UP/Start Venture Competition 2019 winners. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Now in its fourth year, MICA’s UP/Start Venture Competition combines creative pursuits and entrepreneurship.

As the eight finalist teams of students and recent alumni pitched Wednesday night on the stage of the Baltimore arts college’s Falvey Hall, a third element also stood out: social mission.

Before going into the details of the product’s design, GPG Technologies’ Kyle Vaughan talked about how the reusable water bottle that turns inside out would help the environment. Vaughan and cofounder Kenneth Wayman were top prize winners, earning $35,000.

Pitching Hilarious Comics, which was awarded $25,000, RJ Sterling talked about creating new comic book characters that are female, queer and people of color.

“With Hilarious Comics I’m trying to highlight underrepresented characters, so that one day they can simply be characters,” he said.

The teams were selected at pop-up event in February, then received mentorship from local founders and entrepreneurship leaders in the months leading up to the final pitch.

In all, MICA awarded more than $100,000 at the event. The MICApreneurship initiative is funded by the  Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation. Here’s a look at the teams:

Top prize winners of $35,000

Kyle Vaughan pitches GPG Technologies. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Kyle Vaughan pitches GPG Technologies. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

  • GPG Technologies: Vaughan and Wayman created a silicon water bottle that can be flipped inside out to allow for full cleaning. Vaughan said the company plans to work with Harbor Designs and Manufacturing in Southwest Baltimore to complete a prototype.
  • Greenmount Tile: Ann Zellhofer and Dominique Hellgeth created the architectural tile company for large-scale installations. After initial work at Greenmount West makerspace Open Works, they connected with manufacturers that can help produce the tile at scale through UP/Start. They’re looking to complete more prototypes and launch marketing, as well as talking with architects.

Prize winner of $25,000 and audience favorite

RJ Sterling of Hilarious Comics.

RJ Sterling of Hilarious Comics. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

  • Hilarious Comics: Sterling set out to redefine the superhero while bringing new comics to market. He’s also working on distribution by creating an online shop, as well as seeking to bring additional creators onboard.

Winners of $5,000

Haley Manchon of (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Haley Manchon of Paint.Team. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

  • Paint.Team: Haley Manchon, Kelly Sullivan and Doug Moreland created a web application that allows a picture to be painted by many artists. Users touch a spot on a picture, then can fill in the area with a color. It also has social media integrations for sharing purposes. The venture has completed 40 projects to date, mostly customized for an event or organization.
  • Amazing Industries: Brett Wallace is exploring the future of work, notably how artificial intelligence is changing life for employees. Among the projects, per its website: telling the stories of workers on Amazon Mechanical Turk. He’s finding interest from companies who want to explore these issues, and so has a host of offerings from keynote speeches to a gallery art installation.

Also pitching:

Rheagan King of Erose. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

Rheagan King of Erose. (Photo by Stephen Babcock)

  • Erose: Rheagen King is bringing a safe space platform that offers a place to publish and share stories of dating and romantic relationships in order to assist with healing and developing healthy habits. King said the platform is important as sexual assault linked to online dating has risen in recent years. “The solution lies in solving this problem holistically,” King said.
  • Lucky Pocket Press: Sara Hagstrom and Stephanie Bulante created an artist collective and risograph press to provide a means of production for people who lack access to tools. Work includes comics, zines and apparel. “We are focused on making authentic art that is affordable and represents a diverse set of artists and consumers,”Bulante said.
  • Virtual Scout: Danielle Spellman and Scott Will are creating virtual reality content designed for therapeutic settings, offering experiences in settings that are ideal for healing. The tranquil scenes are a departure from action-packed video games we’ve seen in VR, but one that can assist in the process of healthcare. They’re also aiming to make it affordable through specifics plans. “We’re creating VR content to help relieve pain at a low cost,” Will said.
Companies: Maryland Institute College of Art

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