FSU student-entrepreneurs compete at 2024 ACC InVenture Prize 

Undergraduate students from 14 ACC universities competed in the televised Shark Tank-style competition pitching their creative projects.
Undergraduate students from 14 ACC universities competed in the televised Shark Tank-style competition pitching their creative projects. (Madison Dodd Photography)

Florida State University’s Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship and the FSU Innovation Hub hosted the eighth annual Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) InVenture Prize competition March 27. Undergraduate students from 14 ACC universities competed in the televised Shark Tank-style competition.

Since its establishment in 2016, the ACC InVenture Prize has become the nation’s largest student innovation competition and has helped fund multiple student inventions and projects. Teams competed for $30,000 in prizes at the production studio at WFSU, pitching their creative projects in front of a live audience and a panel of expert judges.

The FSU team, Esperance Therapeutics, was led by Ava Polly and Zachary Asarnow, two juniors majoring in STEM entrepreneurship at the Jim Moran College.


“It was wonderful to welcome teams from across the ACC back to Florida State University for our third and final year hosting the competition,” said Britain Dwyre Riley, teaching faculty for the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship. “It’s always a tough competition with incredibly talented student teams. Our Florida State University team worked tirelessly and presented a creative invention while also demonstrating fantastic team spirit and commitment. We are so proud of Esperance Therapeutics.”

Esperance Therapeutics is a synthetic biology startup leveraging innovative research techniques to develop cell-based therapeutic solutions. It aims to improve the quality of life for patients suffering from overlooked diseases, such as the rare genetic disorder trimethylaminuria. For this competition, the team focused on a specific cellular therapy for a rare disease called fish odor syndrome, a disease where when people perspire, they emit a fishy odor.

“The ACC InVenture Prize competition allowed us to look at similar ventures and the aspects we can improve upon,” Asarnow said. “This experience helped us learn where we are in terms of our timeline and place in the world.”


The Georgia Institute of Technology team’s NeuroChamp, an innovative daily wearable concealed headband to continuously monitor pediatric seizures, earned the top prize and $15,000. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill team WeyeZE placed second earning $10,000a, and the University of Notre Dame team Routora earned the People’s Choice Award of $5,000.

By working together, students gained experience in pitching, networking and public speaking.

“We met a lot of kind and helpful people who provided valuable insight, friendships and connections for the future,” Asarnow said. “We would like to thank Florida State University and our mentors for this tremendous opportunity and growing experience.”

Luis Blanco and John Wilcox, co-founders of Diatech Diabetes who both graduated from FSU in 2018, served as keynote speakers during the kick off dinner before the competition. Wilcox and Blanco competed in the 2018 ACC InVenture Prize and the Jim Moran College of Entrepreneurship 2018 InNOLEvation® Challenge.

Diatech Diabetes is a medical technology company that develops solutions to enhance the quality of life for people with diabetes. The company has acquired funding from the National Institutes of Health Small Business Innovation Research program and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, presented at premier international research conferences, and is actively designing software products for multibillion-dollar medical device companies.


As keynote speakers, Wilcox and Blanco recounted their journey of launching a startup as undergraduates and highlighted the successes and challenges they encountered while pursuing the company full-time after graduation.

To demonstrate Florida State’s dedication to fostering innovation and encouraging entrepreneurship on campus, peers from these ACC universities toured the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, FSU’s High-Performance Materials Institute, the FSU Innovation Hub, and the Jim Moran Building in downtown Tallahassee.

“It’s really important for our entrepreneurs at all the universities to have experiences like this where they’re able to see what the other students are doing through the competition,” said Ken Baldauf, director of the FSU Innovation Hub. “We’re nurturing these entrepreneurs, engineers and inventors to become the best that they can through their time here at FSU, and our students are working harder and coming up with better solutions every year.”

For more information, visit accinventureprize.com.