MN Cup

2020 MN Cup Winners Are U of M-Backed Startup

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

A company that is improving treatment for deadly diseases won the $50,000 top prize at the 16th annual MN Cup startup competition awards ceremony on Tuesday, hosted virtually by the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and its Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship.

BlueCube Bio
BlueCube Bio has invented the first safe, non-toxic means for preserving biological cells used for cell therapy—a method that treats diseases such as leukemia and melanoma. Photo credit: iStock

BlueCube Bio, a U of M startup, created the first-ever safe, non-toxic means for preserving biological cells used for cell therapy—a method that treats diseases such as leukemia and melanoma. The company, which is led by an all-women team, including mechanical engineering professor Allison Hubel, won MN Cup’s LifeScience/Health/IT division and took home a total of $80,000 in the largest statewide startup competition in the United States.

Another U of M-backed company, Counterflow Technologies, won the Energy/Cleantech/Water division and brought home the second-place prize, earning a total of $50,000. Co-led by mechanical engineering faculty members Paul Strykowski and Vinod Srinivasan (U of M Twin Cities) and Alison Hoxie (U of M Duluth), the company invented a new type of spray nozzle that operates more efficiently and may lead to energy savings and reduction of CO2 emissions.

Both top winners participated in the Minnesota Innovation Corps (MIN-Corps) program, a joint initiative of the Holmes Center, CSE, and the Office for Technology Commercialization.

“It is exciting to have MIN-Corps as one element of the embrace of resources provided to University of Minnesota spinouts,” says Carla Pavone, MIN-Corps program director and associate director in the Holmes Center. “MIN-Corps helps academic innovators learn the skills of commercialization and how to think like business people. Both BlueCube Bio and Counterflow Technologies are led by professors who are strongly motivated to change the world by building startups based on their research.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic forced the 2020 edition of MN Cup virtual, the competition remained strong, with entrepreneurs and emerging companies from across Minnesota working diligently to earn seed capital, meet investors and accelerate the development of breakthrough ideas. Of the more than 1,000 participants this year, 42 percent of teams were led by women entrepreneurs and 21 percent were led by people of color. 

“This year's MN Cup had great participation from mentors and judges around the country, in some ways benefitting from the virtual format and their accessibility,” says John Stavig, director of the Holmes Center. “While it was difficult to not be able to interact as freely with the entrepreneurs and volunteers, these structured MN Cup interactions were even more valuable during the COVID restrictions.”

The competition included nine divisions, with division winners earning $30,000 of support. Two companies have ties to the Carlson School: 

  • Pikup, founded by several Carlson School students including CEO Brarat Pulgam, won the High Tech Division and earned $25,000 for having the most innovative startup led by a founder of color; and 
  • Proper Pack, founded by Carlson School senior Jeff Watkins, won the Student Division.

The remaining 2020 MN Cup division winners are:

View additional honorees on the @MinnesotaCup Twitter account or visit the MN Cup website.