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Maya Carmeli, M.A. '18, presents for Doplr March 28 at the Student Business of the Year competition at eHub Collegetown.

Student business owners vie for campuswide prize

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Lindsey Hadlock

Peterson Jiang, J.D. '19, presents for Dragon Catcher.

Thirteen student companies pitched their business ideas during the Student Business of the Year competition finals March 28 at eHub Collegetown.

The competition, sponsored by Entrepreneurship at Cornell, features student businesses nominated from each of Cornell’s schools and colleges. The winner will be announced April 20 during the annual two-day Celebration conference, which draws nearly 300 alumni to campus for panel discussions, a demo day for student businesses and networking opportunities.

One of the companies pitching last week was Guardian Health, founded by Andre Hook, MBA/MHA ’18 and Derick Simmons, MHA ’19. The company will provide on-demand health care specialists who travel to a patient’s bedside, to assist families who are managing a loved one’s health care crisis from far away.

“Our nurses can provide caregivers with the presence, clarity and peace of mind they deserve,” said Hook, who spent more than two years as a nurse in a cardiothoracic intensive care unit, emergency rooms and other critical areas at the University of Florida Health System before pursuing his MBA.

Simmons and Hook witnessed firsthand the stresses of caregiving. Hook’s mother struggled to care for his father, who had a chronic disease, while also caring for five children. Simmons said epileptic seizures and a brain operation had his younger brother in and out of hospitals for years.

“During my time at the bedside, I had numerous conversations over the phone with frantic and concerned caregivers, scrambling to get a clear picture of what was going on while simultaneously trying to arrange things so they could be with their loved one,” Hook said. “And even when families and/or caregivers are present, they can become very intimidated by the sounds, monitors, jargon and pace of the setting. This can make them feel more like a bystander than a caregiver, and can get in the way of their ability to ask questions, understand the full picture with confidence and plan the next steps.”

The National Council on Aging estimates more than 10 million adults in the U.S. provide care for older parents who live far away. Hook said more than a third of those caregivers suffer from depression, stress, high blood pressure and other stress-related problems.

“This market is desperate for a solution,” Simmons said. “Like many in healthcare, I’m motivated by a desire to alleviate human suffering. … I want my life’s work to be centered on relieving as much as we possibly can.”

Another company pitching during the event was Doplr, founded by Maya Carmeli and Hannah Lee, both graduate students in the ILR School, and Cory Pisano, who received a master’s in electrical and computer engineering from Johns Hopkins University in 2017. The company provides software and consulting to help work teams improve team dynamics, agility and performance.

Matt Barker '19 presents his team's idea for Brella.

“People don’t work for a company, they work for a manager and on a team,” Carmeli said. “One relevant and surprising trend is that more and more Nobel Prizes are going to teams rather than individuals. This reflects how the problems we’re solving today are more complex and happening at the intersection of fields, so it requires people from diverse backgrounds to work together effectively.”

The company collects information from tools that teams are already using, such as Slack and Trello, and conducts its own assessments using surveys. “It’s like a Fitbit for your teams,” Carmeli said, “to measure how healthy and happy they are.”

Machine learning advances make it possible to combine this data with human resources tools and research to offer team leaders information and recommendations for improvement, Carmeli said.

The company, which was accepted into the eLab student business accelerator in fall 2017, is piloting the software with five companies in May and plans to launch later this year.

Each of the 13 nominees for Student Business of the Year were judged based on revenue generation, customer validation, creativity, uniqueness, intellectual property, grants, awards and scalability of the business model. The winner will receive $5,000.

Judges were Todd Edmonds, creative director and founder of Iron Design; Greg Galvin, M.S. ’82, Ph.D. ’84, MBA ‘93, president and CEO of Rheonix; Ryoko Nozawa, MBA ’16, principal at Cayuga Venture Fund; and Sam Sotoodeh ’87, president of Acquisition Group.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.