UND team named finalist at Governor's Innovate ND Awards banquet

A team of engineering and business entrepreneurs from the University of North Dakota was named one of five finalists at The Governor’s Innovate ND Awards Banquet held at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.

Florent Martel, Matthew Lendway, Mariusz Czarnomski and Shannon Pearson took home $10,000 in cash and a valuable package of professional in-kind services for their business model known as Machine Visionaries, LLC, which invented a collision-avoidance system for unmanned aircraft.

Machine Visionaries and four other entrepreneurial ventures that got started in North Dakota were selected as finalists by a committee of angel investors from an overall list of 84 competitors.

Martel, a native of Paris, France, and an electrical engineering graduate student at the School of Engineering and Mines, said his new business is a product of the surge of unmanned aircraft activities currently under way in the state, especially at UND and Grand Forks Air Force Base.

“We’re proud,” said Martel, as he accepted the prize before an audience of about 200, “Hopefully, we can bring more of that business to North Dakota.”

Martel was joined on stage by his partner, Mariusz Czarnomski, a junior electrical engineering student at UND from Gdansk, Poland. Their other business mates are Matthew Lendway, an electrical engineering graduate student at UND from the Twin Cities, and Shannon Pearson, a UND marketing and entrepreneurship graduate student from Minot.

Their faculty mentors are Richard Schultz, associate professor and chair of electrical engineering at the School of Engineering and Mines, and Craig Silvernagel, entrepreneurship director in the College of Business and Public Administration.

The team members developed their product, which is called “Safe Skies,” at the engineering school. They utilized federal and state funding acquired through the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Center of Excellence at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

Machine Visionaries is based in Harrington Hall on campus.

UND has been ranked as one of the top 10 universities in the nation for entrepreneurs by Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine.

Twenty semi-finalists were invited to the awards banquet, which was attended by North Dakota Gov. John Hoeven, state commerce director Shane Goettle and keynote speaker Doug Burgum, a North Dakota entrepreneur, who launched Great Plains Software, a Fargo-based computer startup that eventually was bought by Microsoft Corp. for $1.1 billion.

In addition to the cash prizes, the finalists are eligible for up to $25,000 in funding for new ventures and beginning entrepreneurs. The programs are administered by the state Commerce Department.

All finalists completed an extensive written summary and made oral presentations in front of a panel of 12 private-sector judges. The winners were judged on five criteria: innovation, commercial viability, investment opportunity, entrepreneur team, and quality of presentation.

“The judges had a very difficult decision in picking the top five Innovate ND winners as the quality of ventures was very high,” said Bruce Gjovig, entrepreneur coach and director for the Center for Innovation at UND.

“The angel investors who were judges want to encourage all participants to move forward with their ventures,” Gjovig added.

Innovate ND was started in November 2006 by Gov. Hoeven and was coordinated by his office, the Commerce Department, UND’s Center for Innovation, and the UND Entrepreneur Department. Hoeven congratulated the participants and reminded them that the marketplace will play a big role in their individual success.

“Everyone that participated in Innovate ND is a winner,” Hoeven said, “But the ultimate winners - that remains to be seen. The final tale has yet to be told, but isn’t it exciting?”

Innovate ND was made possible by more than $200,000 in private-sector contributions and in-kind professional services, including legal, accounting and engineering, as well as appropriated funds from the state Department of Commerce.

For more information on the Innovate ND program, go to www.innovatene.com.