Students Shine at Student Startup Madness at SXSW

By Jane Whitttington on February 12th, 2016 / Comments

Michigan will be well represented in March when Student Startup Madness explodes at South by Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, Texas. The event, now in its third year, brings together up-and-coming entrepreneurs from colleges and universities throughout the country. The preliminary field of 64 has been winnowed down to 32 and will eventually include eight teams who will be given the opportunity to compete against a strong field of other student entrepreneurs, get the attention of possible investors and supporters and network with professionals in their fields.

Students from 38 colleges and universities were represented in the field of 64 entries. Twelve teams were from Michigan State University, two were from University of Michigan, and one was from Western Michigan University. Competing in the semi-finals are six MSU teams, one team from WMU and one team from U of M.

Although the competition focuses on digital media, several of the teams represented are presenting ideas which are product based.

Paul Jacques of MSU’s Spartan Innovations mentors the students as they work on their projects. He says, “We have outfitted a bus to drive down to SXSW with many of our students, whether they will be in the final eight or not. It’s a great opportunity for them to get together with other students and professionals to network, learn new things, get lots of exposure and represent their school.”

He continues, “Spartan Innovations pays for their travel and lodging. We’ll be taking 15-20 students this year.”

Last year, a team led by Daniel Yu from the University of Chicago came out on top with Reliefwatch, a cloud-based inventory management system for healthcare organizations in the developing world which tracks inventory using basic mobile phones.  In the final eight was TechTwurl from MSU, a solution to buy, sell, trade and repair devices using a website and mobile app which ensures privacy.

One of the teams in the final 32 this year is Paxton Medical, headed up by Bailey Paxton, a freshman at MSU who, along with his father, founded the company.

According to Paxton, “My dad works for Eli Lilly, and we have a lot of family members in the healthcare field. I came up with the idea for Surgi-Stay. It’s a disposable self-adhesive strip that holds and organizes surgical tubes and instruments. Since tape can’t be sterilized, it couldn’t be used.  I found that many surgeons were creating their own versions using expensive draping materials. But the solutions medical people were coming up with were expensive, hard to make and all different depending on who made them. Our product is inexpensive, effective and insures safety in the operating room.  We conducted 30 customer validation interviews and got some very positive feedback.”

Paxton started young as an entrepreneur. While still in high school, he participated in a program in Irvine, California called Teen Entrepreneur and won $1,000. He and his father attended Ann Arbor Sparks, a ten-week boot camp for start-ups.  Paxton was the first high school student admitted into the program.

Paxton says, “I presented my idea at an innovation showcase to over 1,000 people. I got some great feedback and came in seventh in the competition. As I was leaving, a man stopped to tell me he liked my idea and my presentation and was looking forward to seeing what I accomplished. I was happy to get the comment—especially when I realized that the man talking to me was the founder of mapquest!”

For more information about Spartan Innovations, go to And for the latest on Student Startup Madness, google the name for the most up-to-date information.

About the Author

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington

Jane Whitttington is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Grand Rapids. A Michigan native and Michigan State University grad, she enjoys reading, travel, politics and volunteering.