UNM Rainforest Innovations

Albuquerque, NM – May 11, 2022 – After an inspiring evening at the Lobo Rainforest Building, five university students went home with cash prizes after pitching their innovative business and startup ideas to an audience of supporters, investors, and business community.

The 2022 Pitch Deck Competition was co-hosted by UNM Rainforest Innovations (UNMRI) and the UNM Innovation Academy, the University of New Mexico’s technology-transfer and economic-development organization and entrepreneurial studies program. Sponsored by the UNM Rainforest Innovations Board of Directors, the competition offered a platform for student entrepreneurs who want to start, or are already operating an early-stage company, to present and launch their innovations. UNMRI provided a $20,000 prize pool for the five finalists who pitched their innovative ideas and early-stage companies to investor judges.

Opening remarks were given by Garnett S. Stokes, President of the University of New Mexico followed by Edgar Solis, Advocate of Right to Start and owner of Alma’s Salsa. Other speakers included Rob DelCampo, Ph.D., Executive Director of UNM Innovation Academy and Lisa Kuuttila, CEO & Chief Economic Development Officer of UNM Rainforest Innovations.



The judges for the evening included Mark Farrell, Managing Director of Thayer Ventures; Francine Sommer, CEO of Respect Wellness, Inc.; and John Chavez, Managing Director of the NM Start-up Factory.


The winners were:

    • First Place $10,000 Prize – Cameron Carugati, Chemical Engineering, UNM, Ngoc Nguyen, Engineering, UNM, Christopher Fetrow, Chemical and Biological Engineering, UNM, Flow Aluminum – Aluminum air battery for grid storage energy
    • Second Place $5,000 Prize – Elias Rosales-Zaragoza, Mechanical Engineering, UNM, LEGARD – Lower-Extremity Guided and Assisted Rehabilitation Device
    • Third Place $2,500 Prize – Gabriel G. Gurule, Bioengineering, UNM, Ventusol – Clean Energy Solutions
    • Finalist $1,250 Prize – Tony Wallace, Business, UNM, Amelia Bierle, Public Policy, UNM, Michael Millar, Computer Science, UNM, ASH – The Affordable Student Housing App
    • Finalist $1,250 Prize – Dharish Totiger, Business and Information Security, UNM, Mark Niederhaus, Business, UNM, Telluride Medical Solutions – Mechanical Patient Controlled Analgesia device



“The Pitch Deck Competition was a great success,” said Lisa Kuuttila, CEO & Chief Economic Development Officer of UNM Rainforest Innovations. “Every year we see innovative business ideas coming from university students in New Mexico and these prizes help support their entrepreneurial pursuits.”

Pitch deck competitions go further than the typical elevator pitch by including visual representations and summaries for a new company, business plan or startup vision. The goals of a pitch deck are to spark interest from potential investors, meet investors and give entrepreneurs more experience presenting to audiences. Judges looked for quality of message delivery through non-verbal cues, (voice, eye contact, gestures, movement) and persuasive and creative content which “connects all the dots” toward commercialization.

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