Cornell students pitched their startup plans to venture capitalists for a chance to win a $1,500 prize in the second annual Johnson Shark Tank competition, held in Duffield Hall Feb. 4.
Six teams of students ranging from undergraduates to MBA and Ph.D. candidates competed in the challenge. Each team had four minutes to pitch their business idea to three judges, who could ask questions for an additional six minutes. Teams were judged based on their business model, uniqueness, viability, size of market opportunity, and how well their product or service addresses a defined problem.
Leading up to the start of the event, passersby peered into the increasingly packed presentation space as venture capitalists, event organizers and competing students set up. The event was broadcast through wireless headphones provided by Party Headphones, a Cornell eLab business co-founded by Jacob Reisch ’14 and several other Cornell students. Announcer Nick Nickitas, MBA ’14, co-founder and CEO of Rosieapp.com, another eLab company, described Shark Tank as “the biggest, most exciting entrepreneurship event at Cornell.”
Starting off the challenge, Feifan Zhou ’16, CEO of Tunetap, presented his team’s winning entry: a service that helps venues and musicians reduce the risk in producing concerts by enabling artists and fans to crowd fund live events and pre-sell tickets. Zhou and his colleagues produced their first show using Tunetap at Cornell two months after launching. They generated a profit pre-selling tickets; many shows do not break even the first day. (Read more about Tunetap here.)
Other pitches included Yorango by Adam Kirsch ’15, whose team created a website to simplify renting for landlords and tenants; Lionano, by Siyu Huang, Ph.D. ’13, MBA ’14, and Alex Yu, Ph.D. ’14, who developed a safer and more powerful multi-purpose battery for consumer devices and electric vehicles; Daapr, presented by Aaron Schifrin ’14, who developed a visual content aggregator and social network; Saund, by Kelsey Kruse ’16, whose team built a pair of brain-controlled headphones; and inFav, by David Na, MBA ’15, and Howard Zheng, MBA ’15, who presented a concept for a social gambling website.
According to the judges, Zhou’s well-articulated presentation successfully demonstrated that the Tunetap team had thought through their market, confirmed the existence of a paying user base and made something happen in the market. The judges added that the team found an interesting, difficult and original problem to target.
“It’s awesome to see everyone out here supporting entrepreneurship at Cornell,” said Zhou. “Having won Shark Tank is just the next step in getting us to market.”
Michael Falb ’14, a member of the Tunetap team, agreed. “We’re looking forward to expanding this spring, doing more shows and then moving to larger markets throughout the U.S.,” he added.
In addition to the $1,500 prize, the winning team was awarded a free dinner with the event’s venture capitalist judges: John Lee ’10, associate at Osage University Partners; Paul Cianciolo, vice president, FirstMark Capital; and Jeremy Rossman, CEO of MakeGamesWith.Us.
Event sponsors included the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Johnson’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation Institute, the College of Engineering, the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, the Departments of Computer Science and Information Science, Entrepreneurship@Cornell, eLab, Engineering Career Fair team, Student Agencies and Party Headphones.
Patrick Braga ’16 is an intern in Marketing and Communications at Johnson.