Cultivating Valuable Entrepreneurial Skills Through University-Wide Competition
An excellent on-campus resource, Tufts Entrepreneurship Center (TEC) offers students not only many opportunities to develop impactful entrepreneurial skills that will set them up for success in their careers, but also an inspiring environment to create new business ideas. Through a variety of courses, competitions, and workshops that provide hands-on learning experiences, TEC connects the innovative thinkers of the Tufts community with professors, coaches, and investors.
Every fall, TEC hosts the Ideas Competition in conjunction with the Paul & Elizabeth Montle Prize for Entrepreneurial Achievement. Paul Montle (Class of 1969) created this prize to recognize individuals that demonstrate outstanding entrepreneurial skills. While the Montle Prize focuses on entrepreneurship within early-stage ventures, the Ideas Competition specializes in the conceptual, planning stage of the idea development.
Within both competitions, the finalists selected to pitch their ideas to a panel of judges receive both valuable feedback on their pitch presentation and their business idea itself. The winning competitors receive funding to kickstart the development of their venture and are connected with a mentor that will support and guide them throughout the real-world evolution of their idea.
This year’s competitions were moderated by Jack Derby, Director of the Tufts Entrepreneurship Center. Jack and the judges used their industry expertise to ask hard questions, provide critiques, and advise the competitors on ways to sharpen their pitches to appeal to future investors.
Meet the judges who all have vast experience in marketing, tech, and start-up backgrounds:
- Peter Clay – Board Member, Tufts Entrepreneurship Center
- Beth McCarthy – Lecturer, Tufts Entrepreneurship Center
- Tina Weber – Lecturer and Business Competitions Director, Tufts University
- Stephen “Zam” Zamierowski – Managing Director, Tech-Venture Center, Deloitte
The day kicked off with the Montle Prize, where 10 teams pitched their ventures, accompanied by a visual presentation, over the course of 10 minutes. The second portion of the day was focused on the Ideas Competition, where 10 teams were to pitch their idea without the aid of supplemental materials. Following the presentations, the panel of judges responded with comments and questions to the finalists.
Tufts Entrepreneurship Center is an environment of transparency and trust for innovators as they seek guidance from fellow entrepreneurs who have already experienced the process. Both the Ideas Competition and Montle Prize successfully brings like-minded people together in a safe environment that promotes creativity and comradery while fostering partnerships within the Tufts network. Throughout the event, the judges encouraged the presenters and their growth, clearly reflecting the overall mission of TEC.
Even the competitors approached each other with words of encouragement after each pitch and continued to discuss their venture ideas together in an open forum. “It’s bland of me to say that you’re all winners, but you are because you’ve gone through this process,” said Jack Derby.
The 20 finalist teams presented unique ideas, products, and solutions across a variety of topics and industries. Almost all of the teams’ pitches featured a personal connection to the problems they are working to solve, and even highlighted their personal struggles. Through the teams’ inclusion of personal anecdotes, the audience engaged with the presentations beyond simply learning about the ventures, and discovered more about the lives of the individual presenters.
Meet the Montle Prize Winners
Cellens is developing a non-invasive bladder cancer screening test that can provide earlier diagnoses and save lives. Their test utilizes high standard cell surface imaging and analysis through Advanced Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) and machine-learning algorithms for early detection and recurrence surveillance. According to Jean Pham, “There is currently no screening test for bladder cancer. That’s why we are offering a reliable, affordable, non-invasive test.” Jonas Pirkl said that the goal is to “include our product in annual checkups for a preventative measure as a way to precheck before [bladder cancer] symptoms are present.” The Cellens team represents cross-discipline collaboration, featuring students in the M.S. in Innovation & Management program, a Tufts senior, and a faculty member from within the School of Engineering.
Team Members: Srushti Acharekar, Nathaniel Niemiec, Jean Pham, Jonas Pirkl, Dr. Igor Sokolov, Fiona Wang
Grow More Greens
Grow More Greens focuses on growing fresh greens that are pesticide-free, non-GMO, and grown locally in Vermont through the use of aquaponics. Through the aquaponics system, they are able to conserve water,
fuel, energy, and land. “Aquaponics makes us different from our competitors because we are using organic farming, inorganic hydroponics, and recirculating aquaponics to enhance environmental sustainability,” said Sacha Thompson.
Team Members: Patrick Perreault, Sacha Thompson
Have a Ball
Have a Ball is a venture that makes basketballs available for rent through equipment vending machines at outdoor courts in Turkey, supplying a healthier lifestyle for consumers. Basketball is the second most popular sport in Turkey, however, people are often seen just watching others play at the courts because they don’t have their own equipment. Omer Ekin said, “I’ve observed the demand. I’ve been on these courts and seen people come from public transportation and further away. It’s not always convenient to carry your basketball with you when you visit the court.”
Team Member: Ömer Ekin
Immuto is a venture that allows companies to tamper-proof data through the use of blockchain. This technology ensures that data hasn’t been tampered with, is accurately timestamped, and associated with a given author. With this security measure, companies can securely and privately store data that can be shared with auditors for verification. “For the first time in history, we can store data and have security integrity at a different level,” said Sebastian Coates.
Team Members: Sebastian Coates, Derek Strauss
Team NeverClog has developed a patented technology that prevents shower drain from clogging, while simultaneously trapping and neutralizing all waste with an environmentally friendly enzyme blend. Olaoluwa Faleye said, “The enzyme breaks down the hair into basically water for better filtering down the drain.” They are working with the facilities team, who on average spends two hours a day unclogging drains, to implement their prototype in all Tufts University showers during winter break and will be testing their product when students return in 2020.
Team Members: Olaoluwa Faleye, Jacqueline Kirk
Worksense is a platform that allows people/culture operation managers to track and eliminate non-performance-based biases in the workplace. Their goal is to drive inclusivity at a large scale and avoid biases that are based on race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation within compensation and promotion decisions across organizations. Timi Dayo-Kayode said, “We are different from our competition in the depth of our analytics being far more substantial.”
Team Members: Timi Dayo-Kayode, Kevin Destin, Jerico Lumanlan
Meet the Ideas Competition Winners
Team Blacklight’s idea is to improve data privacy by offering an AI-based software that scans privacy policies and presents users with real-time warnings. They also hope to communicate users’ privacy expectations to companies as a way to help them tailor future privacy policies and data practices. Their goal is to strengthen data privacy for both firms and consumers.
Team Members: Deepen Goradia, Dash Wedergren
Ito’s idea is based on Tufts University’s patented Smart Thread technology that can be sewn into clothing to measure physical movement. This movement can be tracked in real-time and viewed with compatible mobile and desktop software. The technology can tell the difference between running, walking and standing, as well as, what part of your body is moving, at what angle, and at what speed. This will benefit both athletes and trainers by allowing them to see if they are getting the right therapy they need. Prototypes will be available for testing as soon as January 2020.
Team Member: Frank Yandrisevits
Team Ligo is developing a web and mobile service app that acts as a digital business card, allowing users to connect with people they have just met on all relevant social media accounts at once. This eliminates the hassle of having to follow someone on each online platform separately. The app can conveniently share a link to all of your social contact information via AirDrop or text message to those who don’t yet have the app. This app is currently available on the App Store for free.
Team Member: Cyrus Illick
Potentia is a venture that offers a personalized approach to language learning for refugees and immigrants. Initially developed as an Innovation Sprint within the M.S. in Innovation & Management program, Potentia engages with the community to bring attention to their available services and have had 20 language lesson classes on the Tufts University campus per week. Customers are matched up with tutors and then have the flexibility to meet one-on-one at a comfortable time and location of their choosing.
Team Members: Amanda Wang, Jun Hyung Yoon