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EyeGen takes top prize in $50K competition

EyeGen, whose $50K Entrepreneurship Competition technology is a dye that makes DNA visible to the naked eye, was named the first-place winner of the contest. The two runners-up were Centrata and Mazu Networks. Winners were announced May 10 at a gathering of students, venture capitalists and corporate executives from across the country.

Centrata's software allows computer owners to sell their unused computer resources, such as processor cycles and network bandwidth, to create an enormous network. Mazu Networks' connection management device will provide customer management and billing for Application Service Providers.

EyeGen will receive $30,000, and the two runners-up will each receive $10,000.

In the contest, groups of entre-preneurially minded students compete by developing business plans for potential new companies. The teams research technology or business ideas, then put together a regular business plan to launch that company. The competition provides a variety of workshops to give students the information they need to put together the plan, including sessions on intellectual property, funding and marketing. Team-building dinners help students network, and mentors from the business world are available for interested teams.

The competition grew by almost 40 percent this year with more than 200 teams entering. The $50K is far from just an academic exercise; more than 40 of those competing teams plan to form actual companies, according to Heather Wilding, a Sloan School graduate student and lead organizer for the competition. "This number is much higher than ever before," she said. "It's exciting to see this progression."

"The MIT $50K continues to set the bar for all other colleges," said Mark Gorenberg, a partner with the venture capital firm Hummer Winblad Venture Partners, a contest sponsor. "This year's entrants set a new record for broad excellence."

"The judges had a difficult task; it was a very close group of finalists," said Ms. Wilding. "The finalists were in all different industries, but it was nice that the winner, EyeGen, had a technology developed at one of MIT's labs."


EyeGen's product, EyeGenRad, offers a safer, cost- and time-saving alternative to the current radioactive and fluorescent probes. EyeGen estimates its market to be more than $15 billion annually. "Since DNA manipulation is at the core of most genomic, medical and biotech research, EyeGenRad has broad application as an invaluable tool," the team said.

"EyeGen has a revolutionary technology in an important market space. They're poised to transform the DNA detection industry for the next decade," said Mr. Gorenberg.

"Now we'll see what happens with the funding, find some lab space and start our operations," said chemistry graduate student Zoran Zdraveski, the team's scientific officer and one of the founders. "We planned on moving this company ahead, but the $50K shoved us along at a faster rate. We met so many people who've opened doors for us."

In its 11-year history, the MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition has spawned more than 50 companies with an estimated market value of greater than $10 billion in terms of external assessments and acquisition prices. Those companies include success stories like Akamai Technologies, Direct Hit Technologies (acquired by Ask Jeeves in February) and Frictionless Commerce.

"MIT is a hotbed of innovation," said Sloan School Dean Richard Schmalensee. "No university is creating more spinoff companies than MIT. Alumni/ae have created more than 4,000 companies that employ more than 1.1 million people. One of MIT's advantages is its large number of interdisciplinary programs, such as the MIT $50K and the MIT Entrepreneurship Center, housed at Sloan but serving the entire Institute. This convergence of business and technology provides incredible interaction and synergy."

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