April 18, 2016
Students pitch business ideas at Celebration events
An easy-to-wear heart monitor and a nonprofit that encourages young girls to start their own business shared top honors April 15 in the Big Idea competition.
Another 11 student business groups pitched their ideas to investors, students and alumni April 14 at the annual eLab Demo Day event. Both events were part of Celebration, a two-day conference sponsored by Entrepreneurship at Cornell.
Mikayla Diesch ’16 and Hannah Gallovic ’16, both electrical and computer engineering majors in the College of Engineering, are the founders of Wristbeat, a company that is working on an electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor that can be worn on the wrist. The device could send heart information remotely to doctors. Diesch said she first thought of the device when her younger brother had to wear a halter heart monitor when he was a child to help diagnose a medical condition. Gallovic has a strong interest in health care technology and will be taking a job with Boston Scientific Neuromodulation when she graduates in May.
The two came up with the business plan and built a working prototype as part of a class project last semester. Diesch will be staying at Cornell next year to work on her master’s degree in engineering, and both women say they hope to continue working on the idea.
Beverly Wallenstein ’16, founder of Girls Rule Business, already piloted her idea for an educational program for entrepreneurial teenage girls last summer in Ithaca. At the Big Idea competition, she pitched turning the one-time event into an eight-week series, with summer camps and ongoing mentoring and support.
Wallenstein, a student in the ILR School, illustrated the need for her organization with slides scrolling through Fortune magazine covers. It was some time before she came to a photo of a woman.
Young girls who want to be business leaders need to see more female role models, she said, explaining that her workshops would be taught by successful women entrepreneurs.
A panel of alumni served as judges, and the winning ideas took home checks for $3,000. The prizes are supported by the Vijay, M.Eng. ’75, and Sita Vashee Promising Entrepreneur Award Endowment Fund.
Second-place winners Virtual Therapy (a virtual reality system for cancer patients undergoing infusion treatments) and Fare Trade (a system that allows travelers to trade in unused metro cards) took home $1,000 each, and third-place winners Helping Hands (a 3-D printing idea to provide prosthetics to children) and AIM Diagnostics (a noninvasive tool for cancer diagnosis) won $500. CoreRocker (a novel office chair that improves posture and core strength) won the People’s Choice Award, voted on by the audience.
The day before the Big Idea competition, eLab students, who have been working for the past six months on their businesses, presented progress reports to a large crowd in Statler Auditorium.
All of them ended their presentations with “asks” for the crowd – with companies’ needs ranging from funding to mentorship to expertise in packaging design or software development.
Alex Strauch ’18 shared the story of Cayuga Crunch, the granola company he started in his dorm room in Donlon Hall.
“The smell permeated the dorms, and before you knew it, I sold five bags a week, then 10, then 35 and finally 50,” he said. Now the company makes 600 to 800 bags a week and sells them at Collegetown Bagels, Manndibles Café, Temple of Zeus and the Statler Hotel, among other locations. Demo Day audience members were treated to samples and could buy packages outside the auditorium.
Specdrums founders Matthew Skeels ’18 and Steven Dourmashkin ‘16, a master’s student in the field of mechanical engineering, showed off their musical instrument, a ring that plays different sounds based on the color it is tapped against. The pair plans to start a crowdfunding campaign soon and had prototypes of their rings for participants to try.
Demo Day featured a keynote by Susan Danziger ’86, founder and CEO of Ziggeo.
“It was amazing to see all of these students and their impressive elevator pitches,” said June Hayford ’78, who returned to Celebration for the sixth time. “Each time I come, I go home with a new idea, a new resource, something that I can apply to my business.”
John Balen ’82, MBA ’86, offered advice to eLab member Catherine Huang after her presentation.
“I’ve been in venture capital for 30 years and have done startups, so now I feel like it’s important to pay it forward,” Balen said. “And it’s inspiring to see that the teams are made up not only of business students, but students from engineering, CALS, Hotel, ILR, Arts, CIS, the Vet School. It’s all-inclusive.”
Also on April 14, the business Sodium Analyte Level Test (S.A.L.T.), led by Fon Powell, a doctoral student at Weill Cornell Medicine, won the Cornell Venture Challenge, a contest sponsored by Johnson’s BR Ventures. That contest attracted entries from 43 companies and offered a $25,000 first prize.
Kathy Hovis is a writer for the College of Arts and Sciences.