FAU Engineering Students Win Business Plan Competition

By James Hellegaard | April 27, 2017

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FAU Engineering Students Win Business Plan Competition

A team of four engineering students took home the top prize at this year’s Florida Atlantic University Business Plan Competition with a system that helps prevent the theft of printed classified or proprietary documents.

Their company is Protection Against Physical Element Removal or PAPER for short. Founding members Alyssa Harris, Kris Stewart, Quintin Warren, and Wesley Klemas formed PAPER earlier this year in their senior engineering design class.

The idea started when Harris, who previously worked as an intern in the defense industry, read news articles detailing one of the issues the defense community grapples with – how to prevent people walking out with pages containing proprietary or classified information.

"She came up with the initial idea of trying to track the pages, and from there all of us together developed the idea of printing RFIDs onto the page," Warren explained.

RFID stands for radio-frequency identification, which uses electromagnetic fields to automatically identify and track tags containing electronically stored information, which are attached to objects. PAPER utilizes conductive nanoparticle ink to tag classified documents, allowing its system to detect if documents are being removed from the premises.

Andrew Duffell, president and CEO of the Research Park at FAU and one of the judges for the competition, said the fact that government would be a good customer for PAPER’s services and the company could get funding through various grant mechanisms gives them a good opportunity to ramp up their business to become revenue-positive.

"They showed us a huge market that really has never been addressed in a comprehensive way," he said. “Their technology and their solution and the way prepared their plan and they pulled out the answers very carefully was impressive. It was just a very interesting concept, well thought out and well presented."

While classified information is well-secured and encrypted in a cyber environment, government and large enterprise businesses haven’t had a successful solution to securing their printed classified documents. This has led to these sensitive materials being leaked online. The PAPER team said this can be remedied using their system, which allows organizations to know when printed, classified material is removed before it even leaves the premises, ensuring it doesn’t get leaked.

The PAPER team won $10,000 for taking first place in the competition, along with an additional $1,000 for being named Best Interdisciplinary Team. Ripple, a creative micro-influencer and marketing agency that empowers local celebrities by offering them the ability to rent their social media real estate, was awarded $5,000 for second place. Idle Automation, which uses a mobile app to provide self-driving shuttles for university campuses, retirement communities and resorts where short-distance travel is cumbersome or inaccessible, took third place and $2,500.

The students on the PAPER team said they received support from faculty in the College of Engineering & Computer Science, as well as the College of Business, which hosted the competition in conjunction with the Adams Center for Entrepreneurship. The competition took them out of their comfort zone as engineers, but they got the result they wanted.

"Coming up with the actual business plan was probably the most difficult part of the competition because it was out of our discipline," Stewart said. "The part I enjoyed the most was competing and getting to talk about the business aspect of it versus the technical side of the project."