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Lutgert College of Business in the News

This is the text and images from a Naples Daily News story of June 18, 2013

Budding inventors:
FGCU students win first place in business contest with AquaRamp innovation

Naples Daily News
Posted June 18, 2013 at 2:59 p.m.

Photo by Picasa

Florida Gulf Coast University students and their mentors get together for a group photo to celebrate their recent first place win at the Florida Venture Forum 2013 Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition.

Five of the six students who made up the winning FGCU team include, from left to right, Tyler Dalbora, Sandra Guerra, Scott Kelly, Logan Hand and Robby Donnelly.

A rendering shows what the AquaRamp will look like and how it will operate, helping those with disabilities or other difficulties get in and out of swimming pools.

From the start, school life can bring about a lot of important and memorable first place wins — there’s the little league baseball game, the basketball championship, class president, valedictorian, and yes, even the spelling bee.

Now, imagine a first place win that appears to have the force to change your life forever. That’s what is in store for a group of dynamic undergraduate students at Florida Gulf Coast University. The students competed and won first place at the third annual Florida Venture Forum 2013 Statewide Collegiate Business Plan Competition in Orlando.

The coveted prize was awarded for their innovative, “flawless” business presentation about their new invention, called the AquaRamp. The device is an aquatic lift system, which is unique over existing lifts and provides a simpler, safer and more reliable mode of moving people into and out of swimming pools, and other aquatic recreation areas. Also, it happens to meet new Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines instituted in January 2013, whereas many other such lifts on the market do not.

The students were up against stiff competition, according to Forum Program Director Pat Schneider.

“It was not easy for the four judges. These competing colleges really were amazing,” said Schneider.

Other colleges in the running included the University of Florida, Rollins, University of Miami, Florida State University, Florida Institute of Technology, University of Central Florida and the University of South Florida. One attendee at the conference remarked, “This is a testament to the university system in the state of Florida.”

The six budding entrepreneurs, a mix of business students and bioengineers, formed the winning team that consisted of John Baker (CEO, 21), Robby Donnelly (CEO, 26), Sandra Guerra (quality control engineer, 22), Tyler D’Albora (senior design engineer and head of graphic design, 22) Scott Kelly (vice president and design engineer, 21), and Logan Hand (business liaison, 21). The students were accompanied to the competition and mentored by Sandra King Kauanui, an FGCU management and entrepreneurship professor, and also engineering professor Lisa Zidek. The students have a patent for their innovation, and formed a company called Dynamic Reach.

Four judges from around the state carefully critiqued all of the collegiate presenters. After the FGCU students won, they then were entitled to present to the audience of more than 200, many of whom were venture capitalists, at the Forum’s sixth annual Early Capital Conference, held later in the day.

Throughout the process and for more than a year, the students were guided by Kauanui, who is also the chair of the management department, the director of the Institute for Entrepreneurship, as well as the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Management, Spirituality and Religion at FGCU. Kauanui and Zidek were joined by an angel investor, Bud Stoddard of Naples, with the three professionals guiding the students each step of the way.

“It is really amazing,” said D’Abora, a junior in biomedical engineering. “We could not have done it without Dr. Kauanui, Dr. Zidek, and also Bud Stoddard, our angel investor. They coached us all the way.”

Donnelly, who is working toward a combined major in business and engineering, was the presenter during the forum’s 8-minute window to score notice from the panel of judges. Donnelly was thrilled with his team’s performance.

“I’m thinking this is going to pay for my tuition,” he said.

Guerra also invented another lift device for bunk beds that the students are planning to add to their product line.

Baker, a civil engineering student and CEO of Dynamic Reach, was in Costa Rica for a commitment, and was unavailable for comment. Hand, a business student, was also unavailable.

The AquaRamp may have a ready-made audience. “There are about 270,000 commercial swimming pools in the country, and about 200,000 of those are not in ADA compliance,” said Kelley, a biomedical engineering student. Those numbers equal sales potential.

According to competition judge Jeffery Bridge, a vice president of Tampa’s Hyde Park Capital Partners, the reason he chose the FGCU team was twofold.

“It was a tough decision, really,” Bridge said. “There were some great technology innovations and business presentations, but this one had the overall market viability as a plus, and the FGCU team demonstrated that. They did a great job.”

The idea for the AquaRamp came to the students after they were originally approached with a problem by Goodwill Industries, who were experiencing the issue of the current aquatic lifts not working satisfactorily at one of the Goodwill summer camps for kids with disabilities. The students chose to take on and attempt to solve the problem.

If their prototype can be manufactured successfully, and nobody has yet foreseen an issue with that, the product may be available for purchase before the end of the year. The projected estimated retail price for the AquaRamp is roughly $3,000. That will pay a lot of tuition.

Working late at her office, Kauanui was reached by telephone and said she is very proud of her students.

“These kids are what make teaching worth every minute. It gives me faith in our next generation,” she said.

Visit the students’ Dynamic Reach Facebook page or visit

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