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Entrepreneurs expand future of business

Entrepreneurship has always been a strong value in the U.S., one that lends itself to innovation and pushes for new businesses.

This innovation in business is invaluable to emerging markets and inventions, such as the growing popularity of 3-D printing.

“I think 3-D printing will be like microwaves — there’s going to be one in every house,” said Derek Redmon, a growing entrepreneur and USF alumnus.

Last week, President Barack Obama delivered a call to action urging the increased support of entrepreneurship in the U.S. and around the world. 

He focused on empowering women and youth entrepreneurs in his administration’s global entrepreneurship programs and elected nine new members to the Presidential Ambassadors for Global Entrepreneurship — a group of business leaders committed to helping entrepreneurs in the U.S. through donations and mentorship.

“At a time when the world is more interconnected than ever, we’ve got unprecedented opportunities to help more people access capital, resources, networks,” he said. “Entrepreneurship breaks down barriers between cultures, between faiths at a time when we need more than ever the capacity to understand and work across borders.”

Entrepreneurship is also a valued force at USF, one which was showcased last month when the USF Entrepreneurship Center hosted the seventh annual Fintech Business Plan Competition in the Muma College of Business. 

The competition allowed student startup companies to present their business ideas to prominent leaders in business, like Fred Steube, senior director of emerging technology at Cox Target Media, and Manuel Aguilar, a business banking executive at Regions Financial. The men judged which start-up had the best business plan and which company would be worthy of the $15,000 grand prize.

Of the 50 initial applicants and seven finalists, student startup Visualflo ended up taking first place.

“It’s been a huge opportunity,” said Redmon, co-founder of Visualflo. “(Visualflo) got introduced to the whole Fintech competition on a whim. We saw the poster (for the competition) one day … and said, ‘Hey this is going to be good practice for us; we can figure out how to pitch to people’… As we went through the process, we realized we had a pretty good shot.”

Not only did the competition allow Visualflo a chance at $15,000, but it also created new connections for the student startup in the form of an additional competition. After winning the Fintech Bussiness Plan Competition, the founders of the winning company were entered into Florida Venture Forum’s eighth annual Early Stage Conference, which took place May 14. 

Florida Venture Forum is a statewide organization which helps entrepreneurs obtain funding for their startups, as well as develop their business networks and attract investors. According to the organization, the Early Stage Conference has helped early-stage companies obtain over $34 million since its start. Companies at the conference present their business ideas to investors, who offer winning companies investment options.

“There were companies (at the conference) who were established, and then there were a bunch of student companies,” Redmon said. “We were representing USF as a student company, and there were other companies from UCF, FSU, UF — all the state schools, private or public. So we were representing USF as what student companies have to offer …Unfortunately we didn’t win, but … it was a really good way to meet people to figure out what companies need to do to raise money.”

Visualflo LLC, which became a company in 2014, is a 3-D medical printing company which creates physical models of diagnostic scans. These models provide medical physicians with a physical representation of a patient’s body part, be it a bone or an organ, which they can hold in their hands instead of view on a screen and use to more accurately diagnose a patient.

Redmon said these models are also used to improve pre-surgical planning and allow physicians a way to physically show a patient what is wrong with a part of their body and what a surgery would do to remedy it.

“I think 3-D medical modeling is going to become a pretty big piece of the health care industry, specifically surgery,” Redmon said. “We want to provide that to as many doctors as we can…(and) having a patient-specific … to-scale model — you can’t put a price on that.”

According to Redmon, the idea for the company formed when he met another of Visualflo’s co-founders, Andres Cabezas, two years ago at the Foundation for Orthopaedic Research and Education (FORE) in the Florida Orthopedics Institute. 

At the time, Cabezas was a biomechanics researcher at FORE, and Redmon took an internship there. Redmon said the two worked on creating 3-D models of shoulders from CT scans, which helped doctors there develop better pre-surgical planning. However, he said the lab they worked at never printed out the models — something Cabezas and Redmon, who have backgrounds in engineering and biomechanics, wanted to explore further once the two left the institute.

“Andy had been thinking about it for probably five years at that point, but we had never started a company,” Redmon said. “Andy and I moved in together, and late December we said … ‘Let’s start a company.’ … We got a friend who could do the 3-D printing, and we said, ‘Let’s just put all the pieces together and see what happens.’”

While Visualflo experienced an easier time establishing itself compared to other startups because of the short time it took to find an initial client, Redmon said creating a business from scratch and being a successful entrepreneur was no easy task. He said it mainly takes a good idea, a skilled team and a lot of funding and business connections, as well as working long hours and having belief in the idea behind one’s business.

“Being able to provide a product and a service is probably one of the biggest things for any startup,” Redmon said. “We were very lucky because we already had the skills and just had to put them together and start providing the service. We (became a company), and two weeks later we were sending models out. For us, it was really easy.”

Redmon said Visualflo will become a part of USF’s Student Innovation Incubator in the fall, which is a partnership between the USF Center for Entrepreneurship and USF Connect aimed at helping develop student startups. He also said Visualflo is looking to become a larger part of USF at the incubator and may even hire USF students.

“We’re talking with (the incubator) and having them purchase a 3-D printer … as well as maybe hiring part-time or full-time engineering students,” Redmon said. “… I think it’ll be important to spread 3-D printing as well as medical modeling.”