UNLV Engineering Students Take Top Prize in 2014 Southern Nevada Business Plan Competition

Creators of Skyworks Aerial Systems plan to use prize money to research and develop new drone models.

UNLV engineering students took the grand prize in the 2014 Dominic Anthony Marrocco Southern Nevada Business Plan Competition April 4 for Skyworks Aerial Systems, a company which manufactures unmanned aerial systems, or drones, for small-scale business services.

Skyworks received nearly $85,000 in cash and in-kind business services in the contest that challenges aspiring entrepreneurs to develop the best new business idea in the region. The UNLV Center for Entrepreneurship at the Lee Business School and the Las Vegas Business Press created the contest in 2010 to help energize Southern Nevada's economy.

UNLV students Greg Friesmuth and Jinger Zeng founded Skyworks after building a model for the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering's senior design competition in 2013. Their models are high-tech, lightweight and impact resistant. The students envision the devices being used for various services, ranging from delivering packages to aiding emergency personnel in search and rescue operations.

In December 2013, Nevada was selected by the Federal Aviation Administration as one of six regional sites for testing, research, and development of unmanned aerial systems. Officials estimate the drone industry could have a potential $2.5 billion to $8 billion impact on the state's economy.

"We're excited to be at the forefront of this new industry to help build, support and develop technologies for UAS and UAV and help spur Nevada's goals of economic diversification," Freismuth said.

In addition to receiving $28,000 in cash, Skyworks received accounting, legal and virtual office services.

"Winning the competition helps the company hire more staff and expand our product line," Freismuth said.

UNLV engineering and business professors, masters of business administration students and local business leaders helped Skyworks team members refine their business plan and products.

"This is a great example of how student-developed technology can result in a start-up through a strong partnership between engineering and business schools," said Rama Venkat, dean of the college of engineering. "The College of Engineering is interested in creating employers in addition to employees. This is just the first step."

UNLV's engineering college will offer a minor in unmanned aerial systems beginning in fall 2014.

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