A first of its kind awards program recently recognized six Virginia Tech students for their innovations and entrepreneurial spirit.

The Virginia Tech Student Innovator and Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, sponsored by AT&T, honored students who have created, founded, or own a company or innovation.

“We have to inspire the next generation,” said Derick Maggard, executive director of the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which presented the awards and is based in the Pamplin College of Business. “We have to celebrate their success and their future so they are willing to move forward.”

The center, which supports entrepreneurship at the university, presented the awards April 23, following a celebration of its naming. Its namesake is an information-technology staffing and services company founded in 1995 by university alumni, Brian Callaghan, Edwin "Win" Sheridan, and Jeffrey Veatch. The center was named in recognition of a joint commitment of $5 million by Callaghan, Sheridan, Veatch, and alumnus Ted Hanson. Hanson joined the company as chief financial officer in 1998.

The four were on hand for the celebration and presented the awards.

“You need to give students the positive reinforcement that they are doing the right thing and are ahead of the curve,” Sheridan said. “They can go out and succeed.”

The awards ceremony was held in the Cube in the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech, and included remarks from Virginia Tech President Timothy D. Sands. He spoke about the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship.

“The energy, creativity and innovation that we celebrate tonight represents the spirit of a 21st century university poised to change our world,” Sands said.

Jennifer VanBuskirk, a Virginia Tech alumna and president of Cricket Wireless, was the keynote speaker.  

Students, faculty, staff, and alumni nominated students for the awards. Nominees were judged on the creativity of their businesses or innovation concepts, their involvement in the innovation ecosystem at Virginia Tech, and their impact on the community.

The winners were:

  • Undergraduate Student Innovator of the Year: Sky Van Iderstine, from Annapolis, Maryland, who is a senior studying mechanical engineering and industrial design.Van Iderstine has launched two companies: Strapping Fellow, a custom watch strap company, and Formy, which creates custom grips for various products, such as bikes and motorcycles, using 3-D printing.
  • Graduate Student Innovator of the Year: M.J. Rice, from Reisterstown, Maryland, who is a master’s student studying biological systems engineering. Rice is developing a bacterial-based additive to heal small fractures in aging water pipes without digging up existing pipelines.
  • Undergraduate Student Entrepreneur of the Year: Cody Short, from Farmville, Virginia, who is a sophomore studying computer science. Short has created the Orb Bottle, which places water-flavor enhancement into the liquid of a reusable water bottle with the goal of altering drinking habits for a healthier lifestyle.  
  • Graduate Student Entrepreneur of the Year: Keith Heyde, from Wilton, Connecticut, who is a doctoral student studying engineering mechanics. Heyde launched an algae biotech company, Abstract Algae, and a life-cycle assessment-consulting firm called Crobial Solutions.
  • Virginia Tech Game-Changer: Chris Rowland, from Catawba, Virginia, who is a doctoral student studying industrial and systems engineering. Rowland has researched the commercial application of nanofibers. He has come up with a faster, greener way to create polymer nanomaterials, which are used in battery components, water filtration, and other applications.
  • Virginia Tech Trailblazer: Joe Acanfora, from Gilbertsville, New York, who is a senior studying computer science. Acanfora is nearing completion of a parking information mobile application, which aims to help travelers figure out easily where to park on campus based on their type of parking permit and the time of day.

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Written by Annie McCallum

Share this story