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Students from across campus pitch business ideas

Robert Barker/University Photography
Nicole Mensa ’17, founder of WƆ NƆ Ni, pitches her idea for organic shea body butter at the Student Business of the Year competition.

Students representing 11 startup companies with products ranging from organic skin care products to concussion detection devices pitched their businesses to a panel of judges March 20, vying for the 2017 Student Business of the Year, given by Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

The students, who represented many of Cornell’s schools and colleges, as well as graduate programs, were nominated by their respective school or college for the honor, which includes a $5,000 prize. The winner will be announced at a lunch during Entrepreneurship at Cornell’s Celebration conference April 27-28.

Jason Guss, a doctoral student in engineering, said his product – a glove that uses smart technology to help monitor and prevent repetitive strain injuries – will soon be piloted in a Tyson poultry processing plant.

The company, Orthofit, is focused on poultry processing to start, Guss said, because that industry has the highest rate for injuries of this sort among workers.

“We heard back from every single poultry producer that we contacted,” he said. “I even went on one company’s contact portal and sent a message with an undefined subject line telling them about our product, and within a week I received an email from their director of ergonomics.”

Patrick Walsh ’19, whose company, Reflexion Interactive Technologies, has created a portable concussion detection device, said one of his co-founders suffered a head injury during a hockey game, was deemed healthy enough to return to the game and ended up out of school for a month with a concussion.

The company recently won third place in the Student Startup Madness 2016-17 National Championship Finals March 13 at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas. Its device will soon undergo clinical testing at Penn State University.

“Our company wants to protect the next generation of athletes,” Walsh said.

Robert Barker/University Photography
Eric Berg ‘19, left, and Jeffrey Ly ’17, founders of XBoard, pitch their idea for an electric skateboard.

Nicole Mensa ’17 gave judges samples of one of her products, an organic shea body butter that she is selling at Ithaca’s GreenStar Cooperative and the Ithaca Farmers Market, as well as online and in several locations in Ghana.

Her products, made in Ghana, “encourage people to love the skins they were born in,” Mensa said, and support local producers. She added that her company name, WƆ NƆ Ni, means “things that are indigenously ours.” The company supports a women’s shea butter cooperative in the north of Ghana and also donates a percentage of its profits to ProjectHEY (Helping to Educate the Youth), a Ghanaian nongovernmental organization that seeks to educate underprivileged youth using information and communications technology.

Each of the 11 nominees were judged based on revenue generation, customer validation, creativity, uniqueness, intellectual property, grants, awards and scalability of the business model.

A panel of judges – Jennifer Tegan and Ryoko Nozawa from Cayuga Venture Fund, Tony Eisenhut of Kensa Group and Todd Edmonds from Iron Design – will select the winning business.

“Each year it is special to host this competition and select one business to take the prize,” said Zach Shulman '87, J.D. '90, director of Entrepreneurship at Cornell. “The range of businesses nominated is wide, and that is part of the fun of the competition.”

Other nominated businesses included:

  • Natural Cuts, which has developed a processing technology to extend the shelf life of fresh produce;
  • Vispio, an educational technology company that helps teachers integrate current events into their Common Core curriculum;
  • InvestMend, an investment firm that enables small investors to make direct investments in clean energy projects;
  • Echiuma, which seeks to provide dependable power to Nigeria through solar systems;
  • MilesAhead, a travel company that optimizes reward points and provides personalized VIP experiences to its clients;
  • XBoard, which has developed an electric skateboard for skaters who want to do tricks;
  • Pure Spinach, which has developed a sustainable, efficient method to produce fresh spinach year-round free of pesticides and chemicals; and
  • CoMake, a web-based platform that helps architects and designers track project information and avoid duplication.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell. 

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