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By Ed Morales

A surgical needle designed to improve the speed and consistency of orthopedic reconstruction procedures won the $10,000 top prize at the University of Georgia’s Next Top Entrepreneur pitch competition on April 18.

The EasyWhip device, created by University of Tennessee graduate student Lia Winter, would decrease the time in surgery by reducing the revision rate. Winter and teammate Preston Dishner impressed a panel of judges to beat seven other teams in the annual startup contest, held for the first time at UGA’s Studio 225 in downtown Athens.

“After suffering through treatment for an orthopedic injury of my own, my eyes were opened to the fascinating possibilities of medical engineering,” said Winter. “EasyWhip’s value proposition is that for certain surgeries it makes the whip stitching process easier, faster and more accurate. For patients, improved accuracy reduces the chance of graft failure and leads to better outcomes.”

The judges were impressed by Winter’s device.

“You have a really strong team, and the fact the device is patent-pending is great,” said Joe Earley, who with his wife, Elizabeth, founded Tifosi Optics, which creates technically advanced eyewear.

In second place was Auburn University’s Flashtract, software that automates payment processes and streamlines project management for construction contractors. In third place was Rugged Road Outdoors, an outdoor clothing and accessories company co-founded by Terry College student Spencer Sutlive. Rugged Road is patenting a durable, lightweight cooler.

“It keeps ice cold for days and weighs less than 10 pounds,” said Sutlive, who added his company is selling apparel to promote the brand and raise money for cooler production. “Our cooler is the perfect travel companion for the outdoor adventurer.”

Terry College student Spencer Sutlive pitches his company Rugged Road Outdoors during this year’s Next Top Entrepreneur pitch competition.

Terry College student Spencer Sutlive pitches his company Rugged Road Outdoors during this year’s Next Top Entrepreneur pitch competition.

UGA’s Next Top Entrepreneur attracts collegiate teams from across the country. This year 30 teams applied to compete, but only eight finalists were invited to pitch their existing business plans or ideas in front of a panel of six judges and a live audience seated in the SunTrust Foundation Pitch Deck. The remaining finalists included two other teams from UGA — PuppyFax and KalMed Healthcare; SOstraws from Auburn; MAIA from Mount Holyoke College; and Teacher.ly, a team consisting of students from Purdue and the University of Washington. The contest was hosted as part of Athens Start-Up Week.

Next Top Entrepreneur is sponsored by the UGA Entrepreneurship Program, whose mission is to help develop the mindset of future entrepreneurs and prepare students for business leadership roles. It provides a comprehensive academic program that encompasses experiential learning and equips students with the tools and resources to pursue their own startup ventures. Studio 225 serves as a focal point for student innovation and a place for potential collaborators to meet.