Mines News

Release Date Thursday, April 16, 2015

SD Mines Teams Win Governor’s Giant Vision Business Plan Competition

Run by Rob Hrabe, president, and Christian Widener, chief technology officer, VRC Metal Systems tied for first place in the Governor’s Giant Vision Business Plan Competition, taking home a $15,000 prize.

RAPID CITY, S.D. (April 16, 2015) – South Dakota School of Mines & Technology faculty and students earned top honors in the Governor’s Giant Vision Business Competition last night in Sioux Falls.  In the business division, Mines teams tied for first place and also took third place.  A Mines team also won the student division of the annual competition.

After a preliminary judging process that reduced the field of applicants to eight qualifying business and 10 qualifying student entries, the competition concluded with day-long judging activities Wednesday, April 15, at the Sanford Research Center in Sioux Falls.  The awards were presented as part of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development banquet with Governor Dennis Daugaard presenting the top prizes in both competitions.

This is the third year in a row a Mines-affiliated start-up has won the senior division of the business competition.

“South Dakota is a great place to start a business,” said Mines President Heather Wilson.  “The Governor’s Giant Vision Competition encourages student and faculty entrepreneurs to move their innovations from the lab bench to the marketplace. We’re very proud of these teams and look forward to their future success.”

Business Division

Run by Rob Hrabe, president, and Christian Widener, chief technology officer, VRC Metal Systems tied for first place in the business competition, taking home a $15,000 prize. Widener is an associate professor in mechanical engineering and materials and metallurgical engineering and the director of the Arbegast Materials Processing and Joining Laboratory at Mines.

VRC Metal Systems is a 2012 startup that emerged out of research at Mines’ Army Research Laboratory and Repair, Refurbish and Return to Service (R3S) Center. The company specializes in making turnkey systems for cold spray and additive manufacturing through an advanced materials process technology it developed.

The company’s technologies have applications in aerospace, defense, heavy industrial, oil and gas, biomedical, electronics, consumer products, and repair and refurbishment of high-value components. VRC is building on the more than $7.5 million spent to develop the technology at South Dakota Mines, has exclusively licensed three cold spray-related patents and is the only domestic manufacturer of high-pressure cold spray equipment. With only three major competitors worldwide, VRC is well positioned to successfully lead the global cold spray market.

Last year, Mines faculty members Todd Menkhaus and Hao Fong and entrepreneur Craig Arnold of Nanofiber Separations came in first in the business competition, and the year before alumnus Mat Peabody’s CalxAqua took home the prize.

Third place in the business division and a $5,000 prize was awarded to Module Innovations, founded by Mines graduate student Vivek Agarwal, materials engineering and science master’s candidate, and Sachin Dubey.

With prototypes currently in testing, Module Innovations is set to hit the $221 billion food processing industry with its product BactisenseTM, a color changing strip that detects harmful bacteria, like E. coli, in food and water within minutes.

Food pathogens cause 48 million illnesses in the U.S. alone. The global numbers are even more staggering, impacting individuals and food companies alike. While current bacteria detection methods are slow, expensive and instrument-dependent, BactisenseTM requires no lab or instrumentation. The convenient, easy-to-use strip could be used by a layman, promising to save millions of dollars for food companies.

Student Division Top Honors


SD Mines student Conrad Farnsworth, a junior electrical engineering major and a first place winner in the Student Division, with South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard.

The first-place, $5,000 winner in the student division was Farnsworth Downs Technology, cofounded by Conrad Farnsworth, a junior electrical engineering major at SD Mines from Newcastle, Wyo., and Siouxsie Downs, a nuclear engineering major at Iowa State University.

Farnsworth Downs Technology has designed small-scale liquid fluoride thorium molten salt reactors. These small, portable, modular and rugged power generators can be used in everything from water desalination to setting up emergency power in the event of a disaster or grid failure. These reactors will drastically reduce the cost of power and water purification while reducing nuclear waste stockpiles, which it would use as fuel.

Last week, Farnsworth and Downs presented a talk on their company at the TEDxYouth@MileHigh event in Denver, Colo. As a high school student, Farnsworth drew international media acclaim for achieving nuclear fusion, a feat that earned him a spot at several national science fair competitions.

The Governor’s Giant Vision Business Awards and Governor’s Giant Vision Student Awards were established to help citizens realize that South Dakota is the best place to start a successful business. The program was designed as an opportunity for entrepreneurs to compete for seed money and a chance to achieve their dream. 


About SD Mines

Founded in 1885, the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology is a science and engineering research university located in Rapid City, S.D., offering bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. The university enrolls 2,798 students from 45 states and 39 foreign countries, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1. The SD School of Mines placement rate is 98 percent, with an average early-career salary for graduates of $65,600, according to the 2014-2015 PayScale report. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/sdsmt and on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sdsmt.


About South Dakota Mines  

Founded in 1885, South Dakota Mines is one of the nation’s leading engineering, science and technology universities. South Dakota Mines offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees and a best-in-class education at an affordable price. The university enrolls 2,493 students with an average class size of 24. The South Dakota Mines placement rate for graduates is 98 percent, with an average starting salary of more than $70,036. For these reasons  South Dakota Mines is ranked among the best engineering schools in the country for return on investment. Find us online at www.sdsmt.edu and on FacebookTwitter, LinkedInInstagram, and Snapchat.