Mushroom farming business and a no-tears onion cutter win VCU Venture Creation Competition

A pair of food-related ventures suited the taste of judges of the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Venture Creation Competition.

The fourth annual competition ended Wednesday with the selection of two mushroom farmers as the winning undergraduate team and developers of a no-tears onion cutter named the graduate division winner.

Each winning team took home $4,000 and is eligible for $3,000 of in-kind legal service from Cooley LLP. The eight other finalist teams each won prizes from $1,000 to $3,000.

Jake Greenbaum, an entrepreneurship student at the School of Business, and Lindsay Hawk, a sculpture student, are already selling mushrooms from their business, Urban Choice Mushroom Farm, to five local businesses and to customers at the Farmers Market at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

They’re currently growing about 40 pounds of oyster mushrooms a week — enough to generate about $800 at the farmers market, $400 when sold wholesale to restaurants.

Their goal, Greenbaum said, is to grow more than 700 pounds of mushrooms per week at a facility in the Scott’s Addition neighborhood of Richmond.

The Onion Chef device was developed by Nazgol Norouzi, who has her master’s degree in product innovation and is working on her doctorate in nanoscience and technology, and partner Tumi Oredein, who graduated from VCU’s da Vinci Center last year.

They made the device, Norouzi said, “because I’m super-sensitive to onions.”

The enclosed device will score, peel and chop onions. Norouzi said the next step will be to get patents and license their invention.

The competition, backed by a $25,000 grant from the Dominion Foundation, inspired a wide array of ventures.

Among the ideas presented included baby formula to be brewed in a popular coffee-making machine, a mobile app to solve gift-giving dilemmas, a system to help diabetics with their behaviors and treatments, an app to assist in makeup decisions and a solution to storm-water runoff and retention problems.

Sarah Poole and Elliot Roth addressed storm-water problems with their team, ViV Design Group.

The two biomedical engineering students shared their vision for roofing materials grown from fungus. Their company proposes to grow shingles made of chitin, the same polymer that makes up the hard shells of lobsters and crabs.

“Architecture firms want to set themselves apart and push the boundaries,” Roth said. “Because Richmond is a design-heavy city, we can tackle that market.”

The annual judged competition brings together students in the university’s da Vinci Center, which focuses on innovation, with students from the VCU Brandcenter, School of the Arts, business school and other departments to pitch new companies and products.

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