Union Bank & Trust recently named three teams winners of the third annual Union Innovation Challenge, awarding the recipients a total of more than $10,000 in seed funding for their sports and fitness ventures.

The challenge is coordinated by the Apex Systems Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Pamplin College of Business at Virginia Tech.

Undergraduate students David Hall, of Mullica Hill, New Jersey, a junior majoring in mechanical engineering, and Jordan Klein, of Chappaqua, New York, a junior in engineering science and mechanics, claimed the $7,500 top prize for their ultra-portable bicycle helmet.

The young entrepreneurs’ website proposes a product that will shift from “stigmatized to stylized” by changing what it means to wear a helmet “from an embarrassing eyesore to an attractive form of self expression.”

“Our company all started when my sister, Rachel Hall, was riding her bike through the intersection of Park and Diamond on Temple University’s campus, and she was the victim of a hit and run,” said Hall.

Hall’s sister was not wearing a bicycle helmet. She spent four months in a coma and missed graduation. Hall was encouraged by a professor close to his sister to act in the wake of the accident.

“We progressed through a myriad of ideas and realized that since 97 percent of cycling fatalities occur when not wearing helmets, we knew the greatest way to improve cycling safety started with the cycling helmet,” Hall said.

The second-place award went to SmartGoggleIQ, a team comprising undergraduates Alex Shirshov, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, a junior in economics; Allie Howe, of Cincinnati, Ohio, a junior in computer science; and Hunter Orrell, of Kingsville, Maryland, a junior in mechanical engineering.

The team received $2,500 for its wearable technology for competitive swimmers that allows coaches to communicate faster feedback.

The fan favorite award and $1,000 went to Bar None Insulated Apparel’s Chad Nexon, of Succasumma, New Jersey, a sophomore majoring in marketing, and John Hearney, of Woodbridge, Virginia, a sophomore majoring in industrial and systems engineering.

“The entrepreneurial talent at Virginia Tech continues to grow larger and stronger every year through our programs, as evidenced by the teams that competed in this year’s Union Innovation Challenge,” said Derick Maggard, Apex CIE executive director. “It is a joy to see students tackling real-world problems and truly inventing the future.”      

Launched in 2015, the challenge asked applicants this year to put their enterprising minds together as a team to come up with an innovation in the areas of sports and fitness products, services, and/or technology. The top five teams pitched their proposals in Lane Stadium. The evening concluded with a dinner and a ceremony where the winners were recognized. 

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