A look at the four Cade Prize finalists


Cade Prize finalists: At top, the crew from Partender bar inventory, from left to right, Ishan Kulkarni, Ryan Glidewell, Chris Cordle, Brian Sunter, founder and CEO Nikhil "Nik" Kundra, with mascot Buddy, Joe Astrauskas, Spencer Ellinor, Jules Miller and Troy Sultan. At bottom, from left, Dan Didrick, founder and CEO of Didrick Medical; UF professor emeritus Alex Green, inventor behind Green Liquid Gas and Technologies; and Chris Morton, CEO of NanoPhotonica.

Erica Brough/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 9:43 p.m.

From a pool of 81 applicants, four finalists go head to head Thursday night for the fourth annual Cade Museum Prize. The winner will walk away with $50,000 courtesy of the Community Foundation of North Central Florida, $10,000 in free legal services from the firm Edwards Wildman and, past winners say, a shot of credibility that can help woo potential investors and customers.

The award is designed to help move an innovative Florida-based product or service to market.

The finalists will make their pitches to a panel of judges and make presentations during Cade Museum Prize Night at Santa Fe College Fine Arts Hall. Tickets to the gala event are sold out.

Previous winners include Gainesville's Tutor Matching Service, a Facebook application to match students with tutors, in 2010; Florida Sustainables, of Gainesville, with biodegradable plastics, in 2011; and BioAcousTech, of Tampa, with a device that detects sounds in a patient's body to diagnose conditions such as heart problems, in 2012.

Following are the stories of this year's finalists:

PARTENDER

Nikhil Kundra took a break after studying pre-med at Emory University at his sister Anjali's urging to pursue his hobby of technology and entrepreneurship. The plan was to go to med school at the University of Miami and follow his family into the medical field, but after following his sister to Gainesville to earn a master's degree in entrepreneurship at the University of Florida, he is now the founder and CEO of Partender, a mobile software company that helps bars take liquor inventory.

Kundra, 23, came upon the idea for Partender a year and a half ago during an entrepreneurship bootcamp called 3-Day Startup.

After failing to come up with an idea for a company on the first day, a teammate decided they should try to meet up with some women who worked at a bar when the bar closed at 2 a.m., but were told they would be taking inventory until 7 a.m. They never did meet up with the women, but Kundra came up with an idea for a mobile application he says reduces the time to take inventory from five or six hours to 15 minutes.

The Partender software shows a display of a bottle on a smartphone — drawing from an inventory of more than 500 different bottles and growing. The user moves a slider to the location of the remaining liquid in a bottle, clicks and moves on the next bottle. The software calculates the remaining millimeters, ounces, shots and value with 99.2 percent accuracy, Kundra said.

Partender also compiles data to allow users to see what brands are selling and what are not, analyze sales during events and promotions, and track the time, location and bartender responsible for shrinkage — the loss resulting from over-pouring or giving drinks away.

Kundra offers a hint at his appeal to the Cade Prize judges in that the software is already in use, and "$50,000 would just accelerate us to the point we could go national."

Four establishments in Gainesville already have been using Partender with a few more set up this week. Kundra said about 80 different organizations are on a waiting list for the pilot program and that more than 260 are awaiting the public launch, some of those with dozens to hundreds of establishments each.

The company has operated for a year and a half on $25,000 from Kundra and his parents with five people in the Founders Pad, a roomful of tech startups on the second floor of Union Street Station in downtown Gainesville.

The prize would allow the company to hire a few more developers and scale up for a national or international release, Kundra said.

— Anthony Clark

DIDRICK MEDICAL

Dan Didrick created his first facial prosthesis for a cancer patient when he was 18 years old.

The son of a dentist, Didrick, 43, had created a variety of prostheses, but in 2001 he discovered his niche when he learned of a deaf man who had lost his fingers, making him unable to communicate because he couldn't use sign language.

Hearing the man's story "just sparked an interest in this area," said Didrick, who began working the same year on a device for finger amputees.

In 2005, Didrick founded and became CEO of the Naples-based company Didrick Medical, whose X-Finger is now among the top four finalists for the 2013 Cade Museum Prize.

The X-Finger, which is designed for partial finger amputees, is a self-contained device with a silicone finger sheath that allows users to bend and extend the affected finger like a real finger.

The device does not need batteries, but is body powered, responding to the use of the residual finger or opposing finger using the same brain function previously used to move the fingers, according to the company's website.

The X-Finger is being sold to U.S. and British soldiers in lightweight or heavy duty models, depending on the type of ammunition the soldiers use.

The device is also sold to such diverse customers as doctors, bankers and pianists, Didrick said.

The company has more than 600 configurations of the device customized for factors such as the length of patients' fingers and the size of their hands, the CEO said.

Additional models of the device also are being developed.

Didrick said winning the Cade Prize "would be amazing" and would give him the opportunity to move into pediatrics.

While the company's devices fit teenage boys with large hands, for instance, it does not have smaller models for children.

Insurance companies do not cover prosthetic devices for children because a number of the devices are needed as the child grows, Didrick said.

The CEO said he envisions an exchange program for the interchangeable parts of the devices for children.

We want to "begin the process of designing children's models," Didrick said. "But we need to be able to make them first."

— Jennifer Waters

GREEN LIQUID GAS and TECHNOLOGIES

Green Liquid Gas and Technologies has been a Sweet 16 finalist all four years of the Cade Prize but cracked the Final Four this year with a new CEO and a new focus.

The company makes a machine invented by retired University of Florida nuclear physics professor Alex Green that burns biowaste such as wood, food and manure to produce liquid, gas or biochar energy sources that are deoxygenated for greater energy output.

Green, who is 94 and has been working on the pyrolyzer since 1996, turned over the company reins to Norbert Richter at the first of the year, continuing to serve as technical adviser.

Richter, 43, who has an office in the University of Florida Innovation Hub, said of the many waste-to-fuel uses of the pyrolyzer, the company is focused on "one particularly lucrative one" — turning plastic bottles back into crude oil.

He said he is in talks with a customer interested in using the machine near landfills to provide electricity. The potential customer is an island nation where it costs more to transport energy sources.

The cost of oil and concerns about declining resources make the machine timely after all these years, Richter said.

"When Dr. Green first was developing this, he was ahead of his time and the market probably wasn't near as receptive to the technology as it is today, so the timing has really become exceptional," he said.

Richter came to Gainesville from Raleigh, N.C., so his wife could work at UF and because he was working on a business deal that eventually fell through to buy several solar thermal technologies, including one in North Florida. He said he was doing some "patent trolling" at UF through the Office of Technology Licensing, which put him in touch with Green. While Green invented the pyrolyzer independent of his work at UF, the tech licensing office was aware of it.

The Cade Prize would allow the company to complete a demonstration unit, Richter said.

"With that then we can do a really nice demonstration, which will lead to getting in the right rooms with the right investors," he said.

— Anthony Clark

NANOPHOTONICA

NanoPhotonica's move into the University of Florida Innovation Hub at the end of 2011 marked a pivotal step in the development of the company's new technology.

"That's when we really ramped this up," said Chris Morton, CEO of NanoPhotonica, which also has an office in Orlando.

The company teamed up with UF researchers to develop a material with nanoparticles to be used as flat-panel displays.

And NanoPhotonica's S-QLED flat-panel display is now one of the top four finalists for the 2013 Cade Museum Prize.

The technology is designed for any device that has a flat-panel display — from cellphones to computer tablets to large-screen TVs.

Compared to current display technologies such as LCD, NanoPhotonica's technology uses as much as 50 percent less power and decreases production costs by as much as 75 percent, according to the company.

"But not only that, we can make a better quality product," said Tim Whitfield, NanoPhotonica's chief financial officer and vice president of business operations.

The benefits include more vivid color and ease of viewing, and increased battery life of devices, according to the company.

Morton, who has a doctorate in communications systems, founded NanoPhotonica, which develops advanced materials.

Morton and Whitfield previously worked together at another company where they made connections at major electronics companies overseas.

NanoPhotonica now has joint agreements with Samsung and other multibillion-dollar electronics companies that use flat-panel displays, Morton said.

The company expects the flat-panel displays to be on the market in the next 18 to 24 months.

Morton said the company is at a critical stage now and that the timing is just perfect for the Cade Prize.

"The use of those funds is very focused and very clear," Morton said. Those uses include completing the final materials development stage, preparing for mass production, or "getting ready for prime time," and showing additional investors the value of what they have created.

"We've made tremendous progress in commercializing our materials," Morton said.

"This Cade Prize is going to take us that final step of the way."

— Jennifer Waters

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