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The University of Alabama

Three Teams with UA Ties Set for Business Start-up Competition

Dr. Yang-Ki Hong, the Larry E. Drummond Chair of Computer Engineering at The University of Alabama, researches alternative materials for bulk permanent magnets. A UA affiliated company is hoping to commercialize one of Hong's solutions.

Dr. Yang-Ki Hong, the E. A. Larry Drummond Endowed Professor of Computer Engineering at The University of Alabama, researches alternative materials for bulk permanent magnets. A UA affiliated company is hoping to commercialize one of Hong’s solutions.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Three companies affiliated with The University of Alabama are set to compete in a state-wide business competition this week.

The companies are part of 12 young businesses hoping to prove they could be commercially viable at the Alabama Launchpad Start-Up Competition. Teams with UA ties have done well in past Launchpad competitions, with a company based off UA technology one of the winners in the most recent competition last year.

The three teams will make their first pitches to competition judges Jan. 24. The competition is geared to promote, reward and increase the pipeline of high-growth, innovative ventures that have the potential to create and keep jobs in Alabama.

The teams are in the “pre-seed” phase and are competing for a share of up to $100,000 in award money. The 12 teams were selected from 19 companies who qualified to enter the competition, and judges will further whittle the group after the pitches Jan. 24 at Evonik Industries, 750 Lakeshore Parkway, Birmingham. The event begins at 9 a.m.

The three teams are:

Bidsters – Competing for the second time, Bidsters features an online interactive database in which businesses in the construction industry can display information to connect and communicate with others in the industry. Bidster’s website, at, is designed to help large contractors submit competitive bids while helping subcontractors grow.

The team is led by Ben Bickerstaff, who graduated from UA in civil engineering in December. A native of Anniston, Bickerstaff has set up shop in The Edge, a business incubator in downtown Tuscaloosa that is a joint project between UA, the city of Tuscaloosa and the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama.

Child Safety Pass – Based from technology developed at the Center for Advanced Public Safety, or CAPS, at UA, Child Safety Pass is a software program that allows parents to track their child’s school bus and also whether their child got on the bus. It uses cell phones and radio-frequency identification technology to provide real-time updates to parents whose children depend on the bus each school day.

The team is led by Will Kirby, a Decatur native, and a senior in accounting and management at UA. CAPS, which is led by Dr. Allen Parrish, a professor of computer science, creates information technology to better society.

Powerhouse – Hoping to one day be a producer of magnet powder, Powerhouse is hoping to take lab-developed magnets into the marketplace. The team is based off research by Dr. Yang-Ki Hong, the E. A. Larry Drummond Endowed Professor of Computer Engineering at UA.

Hong invented a permanent magnet that does not rely on rare earth metals, naturally-magnetic minerals that grow costlier as demand increases. Rare earth permanent magnets are the most powerful and efficient magnets, and their size and reliability suit them well for electric motors that use their magnetic field as power. They are the basis for much of the world’s emerging electric energy machines.

Hong’s magnet, which is derived from a powder of two different alloys, is believed to be magnetically stronger, more than twice as heat durable, less brittle, and more corrosion-resistant than the market-leading rare-earth, permanent magnet.

The team is led by Ethan Summers, of Northport, who is studying for a Master’s degree in Business Administration and already graduated from UA with a dual bachelor’s degree in journalism and business management, and Justin Williams, of Phil Campbell, an MBA student with bachelor’s and master’s degrees from UA in mechanical engineering.

The Alabama Launchpad Competition began as a pilot project in 2006, and is financed by business, the state of Alabama and seven universities, including UA. In all, 27 companies have been funded, splitting more than $1.3 million.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.