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MERRILLVILLE | Innovators and entrepreneurs from Northwest Indiana and across the United States pitched their ideas Saturday during the annual Purdue University Calumet Big Sell Entrepreneurship Competition at the Radisson Hotel at Star Plaza.

Fifty participants competed for thousands of dollars in cash, accounting, marketing and legal services, business plan assistance and office space at the Hammond INnovation Center.

Attendees voted electronically for the best ideas and a panel of five judges chose among the finalists winners in three categories: general, social environmental and technology.

Big Sell judge Speros Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said there were a lot of good ideas at the competition.

"As you move from the 50 of them down to 15 that cream starts to rise and then we get a chance to really start drilling down a little bit,” he said. “You start to see who’s really got the potential and it was all the judges’ opinion that if this was our money who we would be funding and write a check to who we think could make the biggest impact.”

In the general category that would be winner Centipede Sawhorse, a heavy-duty work support system that folds into a compact unit for transit and storage. The team behind the Centipede, Ed Adkins and Keith Fyhr, hail from Truth or Consequences, N.M.

The technology award went to CommSense, technology that addresses cellphone signal degradation by monitoring user interaction with their phone and allows adjustments to antenna to ensure efficiency. Its founders Andrew Kovacs and Wesley Allen are electrical engineering students at Purdue University.

The social environmental award went to Seva Corps, a group from Ann Arbor, Mich., that developed a Safe and Sound infant survival kit that delivers thermal care to infants in low-resource settings and prevents hypothermia.

“My heart dropped,” said Seva Corps member Michael Blackshear after the announcement. “There were a lot of good competitors here.”

Competitors included four Calumet High School students — Collin Garcia, Allan Thomas, Robert Peterson and Laurent Diaz — who developed an app called Track Your Bus that allows students to track their school bus. It provides an estimated arrival time and will alert if the bus breaks down.

“The first thing we want to do is patent it immediately because I’ve had so many people come up to me today telling me how great an idea it was,” Garcia said.

Competitor Anita Flowers, a student at Gary’s Emerson School for Visual and Performing Arts, presented her idea, Pra, which is a bra with built in pockets. Flowers, who wants to be a fashion designer, said it was always an idea of hers.

“I think her entrepreneurship mind is great,” said her mother, Crystal Flowers. “She’s always had ideas and things she wanted to create.”

Garcia and Anita Flowers are both members of ECIER Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is committed to empower young people by providing innovative programs designed to teach leadership skills, goal-setting techniques, building positive self-esteem and training innovative students to become entrepreneurs.

The General category was sponsored by the city of Hammond. Director of Economic Development Africa Tarver said she’s always interested in listening to entrepreneurs or people who are cutting edge and see issues in society or the world they wish to address.

“It’s interesting to see the way in which they do it,” she said.

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Regional News Editor