January 30, 2023
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Mapping technology wins UCSB business contest


A technology to make mobile phone GPS more accurate, a new seafood distribution system and a novel way to brand beer growlers at craft breweries were among the top winners at UC Santa Barbara’s annual New Venture Competition on May 22.

Six teams vied for cash and free professional services in the competition, which has been around for more than a decade and has spawned South Coast companies such as Inogen, Next Energy Technologies, Phone Halo and others. It served as an early blueprint for business contests that have taken root at nearly every four-year university and city college in the region.

This year’s biggest winner was ShadowMaps, which took home the $20,000 in total prize money. The team tackles a problem with location-based services in big cities. Tall buildings can block GPS satellite signals and confuse phones, throwing off location readings by hundreds of feet. That makes it difficult to achieve what the team calls “storefront accuracy” – that is, to send a customer a coupon or offer that will effectively guide them right to a storefront.

“It’s called the shadow effect. Tall buildings cast shadows that block GPS signals,” said team member Dayton Horvath. “With knowledge of where the buildings are, where the satellites are and where the phones are, we can improve this by a factor of 10.”

Nearly all smart phones are gathering location data that details the relative strength of all the GPS satellites they can see. By crunching that data along with some other mapping data, ShadowMaps can build three-dimensional maps of the shadows cast by buildings and correct for them – all with software updates, rather than hardware. “The largest market is location-targeted advertising. Agencies are going to be demanding more accurate location information from the ad networks,” Horvath said.

Bottle Branders, which took home $5,000, is tapping the booming craft beery industry, which is worth tens of billions of dollars and has grown at a double-digit clip for a decade. “Consumers are moving to higher-quality products at smaller labels,” said Max Ludington.

The industry’s big problem is that it still relies on half-gallon jugs called growlers to send beer home with customers. Growlers, with their screw on caps and screen-printed labels, let the beer go flat and don’t leave room for the carefully crafted branding that beer makers build around their various brews.

Bottle Branders makes a magnetic label system that lets breweries easily swap out branding, along with a “growler tap” that uses carbon dioxide canisters to keep the beer bubbly. The goal is to make the steel-plated growlers industry standard, making the magnetic labels an art form of their own, perfect for sticking on the refrigerator once the growler is empty. “That’s prime marketing space,” Ludington said.

Salty Girl Seafood took home $10,000 with its concept for a transparent online market place where fisherman can sell their catch directly to chefs, eliminating the mislabeling and sustainability problems that plague the industry. “If you don’t know where your seafood was caught, you don’t know how fresh it is,” said Norah Eddy.

Also taking home prize money were Cayuga Biotech, a firm working on a nanotechnology that it hopes can be a universal treatment for internal and external bleeding; Echo, a company whose web-based software lets customers both order and pay over Bluetooth at restaurants; and Fluency Lighting Technologies, which plans to user laser diodes beamed through a phosphorous-coated lens to compete against the high-energy LED lighting used in stadiums and other outdoor applications.

Here’s a full list of the winners:

Grand Prize – $10,000 – ShadowMaps

Elings Prize – $5,000 – Salty Girl Seafood

People’s Choice – $2,500 – Salty Girl Seafood

Tech Push Awards

•2nd Place (Tie) – $2,500 – Fluency Lighting Technologies and Cayuga Biotech
•1st Place – $10,000 – Shadow Maps

Market Pull Awards

•3rd Place – $1,000 – Echo
•2nd Place – $2,500 – Salty Girl Seafood
•1st Place – $5,000 – Bottle Branders

Top teams by dollars won:

•ShadowMaps – $20,000
•Salty Girl Seafood – $10,000
•Bottle Branders – $5,000