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Saturday, April 20, 2024

UCD graduate designs wine cork substitute, starts company

Tim Keller won the UC Davis Graduate School of Management’s 2008 Big Bang! competition. Then local Sacramento Angels Early Stage Investment Group invested $50,000 into his new idea.

The winning idea – a wine topper that keeps wine fresh and drinkable without the problems of traditional cork tops. VinPerfect was born.

Still in prototypical stages, VinPerfect’s website shows the screw cap’s design, along with reasons to switch from a cork to Keller’s topper. Advantages include less cork taint, zero contamination and accurate age prediction, according to the website.

For the Sacramento Angels, Keller, a UCD Viticulture & Enology ’99 alumnus and GSM ’08 graduate, found a winning pitch in a sellable product like VinPerfect.

Sacramento Angels treasurer and investor Roger Akers led the program’s investment round for the analysis of VinPerfect and saw that the UCD graduate had a valuable idea.

“[Keller’s] got the technology,” Akers said. “He had a real start on the technology that would allow good wine to use this technology to derive the same benefits you get from corks.”

The Sacramento Angels is a group that invests in early start-ups around the Sacramento region.

Akers, also on the GSM foundation board of trustees and external research advisory board in the office of research at UCD, sees a lot of ideas stem from aspiring entrepreneurs at UCD.

“Virtually every year there are a few businesses that get generated out of [the investment] process,” he said.

The Big Bang! competition is the GSM’s annual event that pushes students to do something with their business ideas, said Andrew Hargadon, professor at GSM and director for UCD Center for Entrepreneurship. Hargadon is also a faculty advisor for the competition.

“It’s a great competition because it gives students and others associated with the university who have an idea to flush that idea out as a business,” Hargadon said.

Keller’s idea did what UC Davis does best. He combined science with technology – and wine.

Though Keller won last year’s competition, other ideas from the GSM go on to become companies, said Hargadon.

“The process of going through the competition teaches enough and gives competitors enough confidence to keep their ideas moving forward,” Hargadon said.

Big Bang! student coordinator and GSM student Sam Wainer is involved in the competition because of the mentoring and experience, as well as its big-picture importance.

“Not only is this experience valuable for UCD participants, but it has identified UCD as a leader not only in scientific research, but commercialization of that research,” Wainer said.

Hargadon agrees.

“UC Davis is not well known for moving research out of the lab and having an entrepreneurial impact,” he said. “[But] it is happening.”

The upcoming 2010 Big Bang! competition has announced that it will include competitors from the region and from more science and technology communities within the campus. These changes should up the competition and quality of ideas that come from UC Davis.

SASHA LEKACH can be reached at city@theaggie.org.


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