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Light for Africa wins Big Idea competition

Jon Reis Photography
Winners Kit Dobyns and Jimi Fowose

An idea that uses soda bottles to bring light to people in developing countries won the $3,000 first-place prize April 20 at the Big Idea undergraduate business competition, part of this year's Entrepreneurship@Cornell Celebration, April 19-20.

CapLight, created by Chris Dobyns '13 and Folajimi Fowose '13, replaces the cap of a standard soda bottle with an LED light assembly designed to provide low-cost, energy-efficient lighting in areas without electricity.

"Our product could raise the standard of living for a whole community," Dobyns said during a three-minute pitch to judges.

The pair said they were inspired by the lack of nighttime lighting they've witnessed in sub-Saharan Africa. Fowose said they will use the prize money to build more prototypes, which they plan to distribute in Africa this summer.

The runner-up in the Big Idea competition was Practice Makes Perfect, a nonprofit organization that pairs struggling fourth-graders students with ninth-grade mentors in their school districts for summer academic enrichment programs led by Karim Abouelnaga '13, who received $2,000.

Second place winner Linsday Boyajian '13 received $1,000 for WeareverYouGo, a website that offers women a series of tools to help them dress in a culturally appropriate and fashion-forward manner while abroad.

Third place and $500 went to David Laskin, Ryan Afari and Isaac Ross, all Class of '12, for EORE, a system to solve current problems of traditional college course enrollment software systems using an order draft system and student electronic ballots.

And fourth place and $250 went to Smartphone Laser Tag, an indoor/outdoor laser tag system which allows a user to attach a laser gun to their smart phone, then use the phone as the laser gun's microchip and user interface, led by Richard Panzer '13.

"I'm impressed with their enthusiasm and their willingness to put themselves out there," said judge Steve Benjamin '80, M.Eng. '81, MBA '82.

The competition, open to all undergrads, drew more than 100 applications. Competitors were whittled down to 28 semifinalists in March, who received mentoring and advice from Samuel C. Johnson Graduate School of Management students. Eight finalists were announced April 2.

Also announced were winners of the Cornell Venture Challenge business plan competition, sponsored by BR Venture Fund, which offers a first prize of $10,000, second prize of $2,500 and third prize of $1,000. First prize went to Tadpoles, a company that helps child care centers use mobile technology to streamline operations and parent communication.


Celebration draws more than 250 alumni to campus

More than 250 alumni returned to campus April 19-20 for Entrepreneurship@Cornell's Celebration 2012 symposia, networking and business idea competitions. More than 900 people honored John Alexander '74, MBA '76, as 2012 Cornell Entrepreneur of the Year 2012.

Sessions such as entrepreneurial innovation in biomedical products and opportunities in the local food movement offered the opportunity to learn from panelists and connect with Cornellians who are passionate about business creation.

"Conferences like this one allow people to tap into creative management ideas and translate those principals to startup and mid-level firms," said Bruce Hack '71.

Organizers said the large attendance illustrated continued growth of interest in new-business creation.

"It's clear that student interest in entrepreneurship and innovation on campus has never been stronger," said John Jaquette, director of Entrepreneurship@Cornell. "This year, with the excitement surrounding the CornellNYC Tech campus, there is even more interest -- both in Ithaca and in New York City -- about business creation and economic development."

Highlights of the conference included:

  • A roundtable featuring four past Entrepreneur of the Year winners.
  • A showcase of new business and emerging technologies from the Cornell Center for Technology, Enterprise and Commercialization.
  • An update from Lance Collins, the Joseph Silbert Dean of Engineering, on the CornellNYC Tech campus.
  • Keynote and dinner speeches from Alexander. "A lot of times I was just in the right place at the right time," he said. "And Cornell taught me to step up and do the right thing."

Kathy Hovis is a writer/editor for Entrepreneurship@Cornell.


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