Embry-Riddle Business Competition Showcases Innovations in Tactical Navigation, Eyewear and More

Mario Avila, founder of Tactical Solutions Group
Mario Avila, founder of Tactical Solutions Group, won the $10,000 grand prize this month at Launch Your Venture, Embry-Riddle’s annual business competition. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/David Massey)

From his time as a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps, Mario Avila understands the value of having reliable access to real-time tactical and navigational information. In fact, that firsthand experience is what sparked his lightbulb moment in business.

Why can’t software currently being used by the military be expanded for use by first responders, he wondered, or by hikers, hunters or boaters exploring remote spaces, or used by FEMA during natural disasters?

That question led to the launch of Tactical Solutions Group, which won the $10,000 grand prize at the annual Launch Your Venture entrepreneurship competition, held last week at Embry‑Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus.

“There are about 40,000 commercial and 70,000 private vessels operating in U.S. waters annually,” Avila said at the event. “And there are 325.5 million recreational visits per year to national parks.”

For Avila, these numbers represent a customer base. His company would develop plugins for a product called TAK (Tactical Assault/Team Awareness Kit), which could notify users of incoming storms, as well as track their location in case of emergencies.

An Embry-Riddle graduate student of Engineering Physics, Avila recently graduated from the inaugural cohort of Embry-Riddle RISE, a veteran entrepreneurship program founded and directed by Ramy Rahimi, who also leads Embry-Riddle’s Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“Embry-Riddle RISE is an entrepreneurship program committed to empowering veterans and active-duty service members to realize their entrepreneurial aspirations,” Rahimi said. “Mario Avila's achievement of winning first prize in Launch Your Venture is a testament to the robust support and resources offered by the RISE Program. Through essential training, mentorship and access to resources, Avila refined his business idea, demonstrating the program's effectiveness in nurturing entrepreneurial success.”

Tactical Solutions Group competed against five other startups in a 10-minute pitch competition, followed by a question-and-answer session. Three startups won funding. All winning teams also earned professional business consultations and in-kind prizes. In total, three of the six competing teams were Eagle-founded.

The aim of Launch Your Venture is to recognize and reward innovative startups within the aviation and aerospace industries throughout Florida, according to Dr. Stephanie Miller, executive director of Technology Transfer and Research Park Initiatives at Embry-Riddle. “We’re really looking to enable students in going from student to CEO,” she said.

The first-, second- and third-place winners of Embry-Riddle’s Launch Your Venture competition won $10,000, $5,000 and $3,000, respectively, in startup capital at the event. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/David Massey)

Meet the Competitors

Other winners of the Launch Your Venture competition are listed as follows:

Second Place ($5,000): BeamBloxx

From Rollins College, Marissa Faris, founder and CEO of BeamBloxx, took home the $5,000 second-place prize at Launch Your Venture for her startup that manufactures smart safety goggles that incorporate cameras capable of detecting and protecting against various laser wavelengths.

Most lasers in the workplace are hazardous and often invisible, Faris told the panel of judges during her pitch, and eye-related injuries cost companies $300 million annually.

Her company’s solution is a goggle design that could be customized to individual users using clip-on lens attachments. Unlike typical laser-filtering goggles, which can be heavy, have an imbalanced center of gravity and are worn over prescription glasses, these would be lightweight and have built-in prescription lenses.

BeamBloxx’s advisor team is comprised of Jason Wojack, Luminar Technologies; Dr. Tim Day, Daylight Solutions; Dr. Shin-Tson Wu, UCF Trustee Chair professor; and Scott Faris, Infleqtion CEO.

Third Place ($3,000): Pet HealthCare Innovations

More than 4.6 million dogs per year are euthanized due to hip-/leg-related conditions, and Pet HealthCare Innovations — which won the $3,000 third-place prize at Launch Your Venture — aims to significantly reduce that number.

When company founder John Thomerson’s family dog Daisy lost the use of her back legs, he came up with a prototype that would support the dog while she relieved herself on the grass. Today, that prototype has been expanded into a line of products for disabled dogs.

The company’s pitch was presented by Damian Czapp, marketing lead. Other members of the team include Landon Enrique, engineering co-lead; Jonathan Batenko, engineering co-lead; and Prototype House, strategic partner.

Additional competing companies included Eyes 4 You, a firm focusing on eyewear with built-in sensors for the visually impaired, run by Embry-Riddle students Ravyn Edge and Nick Sontra; a dental imagery firm called Aldental, founded by Florida Atlantic University student Charles Russo; and a small satellite company called Phemotron Systems, founded by Embry-Riddle’s Dr. Femi Isola.

Supported by the Embry‑Riddle Research Park, the Launch Your Venture competition highlights student-run businesses. The April 5 event was judged in person by a diverse panel of business executives, including a nonprofit founder, a leadership expert, a business attorney and a venture capital investor. The judges were Robert Katz, CEO and executive director of World Innovation Network; Gregg Frederick, founder and principal consultant of G3 Development Group; Dennis Haber, founder of Dennis R. Haber P.A.; and Ben Patz, managing general partner of DeepWork Capital. It took place in Embry‑Riddle’s MicaPlex (John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex).

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