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The organizers and winners of the Minnesota Cup in a line across the stage.

Minnesota Cup organizers and winners: (L to R) Dan Mallin, Dave Cleveland, David Emmons, John Berger, Carolyn Cleveland, Debra Paterson (regional president for contest sponsor Wells Fargo), and Scott Litman.

Switch wins the cup

An invention to route optical signals takes top spot in the first Minnesota Cup

By Pauline Oo

Published on September 9, 2005

During the dot-com boom, optical fibers--human-hair sized strands of pure glass that are arranged in bundles to transmit light signals over long distance--were installed all over the world. The technology made the Internet, phone, cable, and other forms of efficient global communication possible for us. Today, however, only 5 percent of that optical fiber capacity is being used due to the high cost and complex methods of optical lenses and mirrors to route optical signals. Will that change? Will we have a more efficient means for accessing fiber optics in the near future? Yes, say University of Minnesota alums David Emmons and John Berger, and Arcswitch is the answer. On September 8, Arcswitch--the duo's patented product and company--took grand prize in the first-ever Minnesota Cup, a contest to find, support, and promote the state's newest and most innovative business ideas. Berger and Emmons will receive $25,000, along with free public relations and legal, research, and management support services to bring the new technology to the market. "We've found a way for direct fiber to fiber alignment," explains Emmons, instead of using optical lenses, the industry standard, to move multiservice signals between the optical fibers. "The benefits [of our switch] are higher optical performance or less optical loss and the ability to [create more broadband access]." Emmons and Berger, friends since seventh-grade science class, came up with the idea for an optical switch and attenuator in the late 1990s. "We built different kinds of devices and had patents [for that function], but with the dot com meltdown we mothballed the idea," says Emmons, who learned about fiber optics 10 years ago when he was employed with ADC; he now works with new product development at Pure Water Filters. "Then we heard about the Minnesota Cup." Another pair of University alums Scott Litman and Dan Mallin, cofounders of Imaginet, created The Minnesota Cup. Governor Tim Pawlenty launched the contest, sponsored by the University, in March, and more than 600 people from 48 Minnesota counties submitted entries. In June, judges selected 30 semifinalists, and five finalists were picked last month. In addition to developing more presentation materials, the finalists had to give a 15-minute oral presentation to a panel of 14 judges. Ideas were judged on originality, viability, and quality of presentation.

"[It's] great to see what can happen when alumni work together," said University president Bob Bruininks at the award ceremony. He added that for more than 150 years the University, like the winners and organizers of The Minnesota Cup, have been entrepreneurial when it comes to conceiving and implementing ideas. Among those globe-trotting ideas are new methods to process taconite, disease-resistant crops, and new health treatments like pacemakers and replacement heart valves.

"[It's] great to see what can happen when alumni work together," said University president Bob Bruininks.

"[Getting our invention to the market is] like a horse race, John and I are the jockeys, Arcswitch is the horse, and the gate doesn't open until the money's in place," says Emmons. "There are a lot of jockeys and horses out there--and there will always be--but we've got a pretty good start [by winning the Minnesota Cup]." Over the next year, Emmons and Berger will be working on a financing plan with an advisory board from Wells Fargo that will include a business banker, a Small Business Association representative, a Private Client Services professional, an accountant, and an attorney. They also will receive $25,000 in seed capital from Dave Cleveland, the cofounder of Riverside Bank, and his wife Carolyn. Additionally, the winning duo plans to tap their alma mater's resources. "The University is a place filled with experts, and we're a startup without very much money. So, whatever help we can get is only going to benefit us."

Paul Kozlicki of Eden Prairie took second place and $5,000 for PICC STAT, an improved and cost-efficient way to insert a central intravenous (IV) line in patients who require long-term IV therapy or frequent IV starts for delivery of medications. Many types of lines require surgical implantation, which is costly and holds a risk of infection. Kozlicki's invention is a central line with a long IV catheter inserted through a vein in the patient's arm.

Third place and $2,500 went to Lisa and Doug Powell of Minneapolis for "Type 1 Tools," designed to educate patients and family members living with diabetes in a friendly, empowering, and intuitive way. The products include flashcards that highlight carbohydrate counts of common foods, educational refrigerator magnets, carb-count stickers, and other worksheet tools.

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