Students’ senior design turned start-up wins $53,000

Focalcast founders Devin Turner, Joel Fontenot, Nick Winninger and Charlie Beckwith pose with a $50,000 check made to their start-up app company.

Focalcast founders Devin Turner, Joel Fontenot, Nick Winninger and Charlie Beckwith pose with a $50,000 check made to their start-up app company.

A student start-up is looking to build off its success after it took home $53,000 in winnings at the Rice Business Competition for its business plan April 7.

The plan focuses around a phone application, focalCast, which streams PowerPoints from mobile devices to a display device using Intel’s Wireless Direct technology. Users can write, draw and annotate on the presentations while using the app.

The Rice Business Competition, one of the world’s largest and most renowned business plan competition, draws competitiors from around the globe. This year, focalCast competed against 42 teams from institutions such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Devin Turner and Charlie Beckwith, both seniors in the College of Engineering and co-founders of focalCast, created the application last summer. They pitched the idea to Marquette and were granted access to make the project part of a senior design class as well as receive guidance from university faculty.

Although the application is still very new, it has already made great strides toward success. Prior to the competition, the business plan won multiple contests including the Marquette Business Plan Competition earlier this month.

“It was the most fast-paced and intense three days I have ever experienced, but staying up all night working on something that you love made it fly by,” Beckwith said. “It was incredibly rewarding for me to see other people using something that I created from the ground up.”

Nick Winninger, business director of focalCast, said the team was hesitant to enter the competition. It knew experts had to critique its plan, but was also under pressure to find potential investors.

In the end, the focalCast group won the $50,000 Trailblazer Capital Start-up Entrepreneur Investment Prize and the $3,000 Gimmal Group Outstanding IT Prize.

“Going into the competition, we were really excited about our team, but wildly unsure what was in store for us,” Winninger said. “While it was important to prepare well for the pitch rounds, we knew there was a huge opportunity in connecting with the variety of investors mingling about. The real competition was getting in touch with investors who specialize in your industry, then keeping the conversation going.”

The project is entirely funded by Turner. With the money and the recognition received at the competition, Turner said he hopes the project will continue to flourish.

“As a Marquette student, it has been amazing for me to watch this grow from an idea to an incredible team with a working product that people are excited about,” Turner said. “Our ability to compete and win at the highest level was a great affirmation of our vision.”

The application was developed enough to use by December. It went through test runs this semester in classrooms to teach classes on campus.

With the competition under its belt, the team will continue beta testing the product with corporate partners Brady Corporation and American Family Insurance. The hope is to debut the app in the Google Play Store sometime next month and expand focalCast to other devices.

“It was a great honor to represent Marquette and compete globally at an elite level against teams from Harvard and MIT at the Rice Business Plan Competition,” Tuner said. “It is incredible just to be selected as a finalist, and competing successfully with two awards totaling $53,000 is a great achievement for our team and has given us the momentum to take the company to the next level from releasing the application for Android next month to developing for iOS.”