An app to help musicians learn music faster and technology that prevents your phone’s lithium ion battery from catching on fire took home the top prizes at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s 17th annual Cozad New Venture Competition.

Trala, an app that tracks practice time and provides instant feedback to violin and viola musicians, won the top $15,000 prize among startups on the non-university tech startup track, while Autonomic Energy Systems, a startup addressing lithium ion battery fires through thermoresponsive microcapsules, won a $10,000 cash prize as well as an additional $5,000 prize for best energy startup, on the university tech track.

(Credit: Darrell Hoemann)

These startups beat out 123 other student startup teams who started with the Cozad entrepreneurship programming in February (a record for the competition), whittled down to 18 finalists announced earlier this month. Just six finalists pitched at the final competition Wednesday.

Founders of both the startups were modest about their wins, noting the immense work ahead for the early stage ventures.

“Mediocre,” Trala founder Sam Walder said when asked how he felt after winning the competition. “There’s a lot of excitement in the future and this is just one step toward that.”

Walder won over judges with his proprietary digital signal processing tech, which can accurately understand chords and notes at any speed, and early traction: Trala, which costs $9.99 per month, jumped up to 500 subscriptions last week after Walder spent just $100 on advertising and business expenses. In an initial test with a violin teacher, students who used Trala learned a song in two weeks, compared to the five weeks it took for student who didn’t use the app.

Walder, a life-long violinist (who played a song for the Cozad finals audience while the judges deliberated) is initially targeting parents looking to push their kids to practice more, as the app can give feedback on playing in real time, as well as send updates on progress and practice time to teachers. Next up, Walder is expanding the app to additional orchestral instruments (such as flute, clarinet, trumpet, oboe) and plans to use the competition funding on additional digital marketing efforts. He’s working on the startup full time after he graduates this spring with a degree in computer engineering.

Autonomic Energy Systems’ cofounder Anthony Griffin (pictured above) was similarly daunted, and excited, about the work ahead. “I’m still very nervous,” he said. “This is a big step forward and it just means there’s a ton more to do.”

Their thermoresponsive microcapsule tech offers two solutions to battery makers looking to prevent a Samsung Galaxy Note-like catastrophe with their lithium ion-powered devices: Capsules can melt and shut the battery down if it gets too hot or release a flame retardant if the battery sets on fire.  

There’s a lot of excitement in the future and this is just one step toward that

Autonomic Energy Solutions’ tech is based off patents and research done by cofounders Anthony Griffin, a fourth year materials engineering PhD student, and Scott White, a professor of aerospace engineering. While they’ve proved their tech can work in the lab, the next steps include further development, extended testing and verification to ensure that it works with various battery settings and standards.

And while most battery makers’ goal from the get-go is to create lithium ion batteries that don’t heat up to the point of combustion, Griffin said they’ve developed the tech to help similar problems for next generation battery tech and they’ve got their eye on larger applications, such as grid storage.

These two startups weren’t the only winners at Cozad this week. 

Here’s a look at all the winner’s of this year’s Cozad New Venture Competition:

*Note: In-kind prizes are not included in the following list

Non-University Resources Track

1st place ($15,000): Trala

2nd place ($10,000 in convertible note from Illinois Ventures, $500 cash): Mesh++

3rd place ($1,000): VR MD

University Resources Track

1st place ($10,000 and $5,000 for best energy startup award): Autonomic Energy Systems

2nd place ($10,000): Steady

3rd place ($1,000): PhantomCor

Additional prizes

Best Agriculture Startup ($5,000): SkyDro

Huawei Innovation Award ($2,500) TranslAPI

Abvie best team in Pharma space: Therapalz, Invoq Health ($625 each)

Best Pitch ($5,000): Autonomic Energy Systems