IBM has announced that a team of students from the University of Texas at Austin has won first place in the company’s Watson University Competition. The competition was held as part of IBM’s cognitive computing academic initiative to strengthen students’ skills and prepare them for in-demand jobs.

“The opportunities to apply Watson are endless,” said Stephen Gold, vice president of the IBM Watson Group. “These academic competitions expose students to a new era of computing, help them build valuable professional skills, and provide an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to bring their ideas to life.”

As part of the initiative, IBM partnered with universities to provide them with direct access to Watson through course curricula and the Watson Developer Cloud. The students were then asked to identify an industry-specific challenge and work as a team to solve the problem by developing a prototype app and coming up with a business plan using Watson.

Students from UT Austin developed a prototype app designed to provide Texas residents with an easy way to obtain information on their mobile devices. According to IBM, a majority of Texas’ 27 million residents rely on social services, but often have difficulty finding the information they need. The app, CallScout, will provide information on healthcare, food assistance and other social services.

“This is more than a school project for us: It’s about creating a sustainable business that addresses one of the key challenges we all face as Texas residents,” said Bri Connelly, team leader and undergraduate computer science student at UT Austin. “The opportunity to directly impact citizens of our home state was a huge driving force in our work.”

The UT Austin team will receive US$100,000 in seed funding to help launch a business around their Watson app.

“Through this program we have been able to create a unique experience that not only enabled our students to develop skills in cognitive computing, app development and teamwork, but also in business development,” said Bruce Porter, chair of UT at Austin’s department of computer science.

In addition, the University of Toronto took second place for Ross, an app that allows users to ask Watson legal questions. And students from the University of California, Berkley took third place for their app Patent Fox, which conceptualizes patent ideas, simplifies queries, and streamlines the filing process.