Five Cornell teams make state business plan competition

Five teams of Cornell undergraduates will participate in the finals of the New York Business Plan Competition, this year a virtual event beginning May 1.

College teams from across the state will submit video “pitch decks” (brief overviews of their companies) on May 1. Judges in each of six categories will rate the videos and meet to determine winners over the following two weeks, with the winners announced on May 22.

The event is sponsored by the Upstate Capital Association of New York.

The Cornell teams are:

  • Coatable – a platform for families with growing children to rent, instead of purchase, affordable winter outerwear;
  • Dream Haus – combining an online photo database with an algorithm and machine learning to create a more efficient way for real estate agents to help clients;
  • PediCure – a toenail trimmer with a long handle extension arm for people who can’t touch their toes, particularly targeted for older people;
  • Polici – a social enterprise that uses AI and human editors to summarize research articles at scale and then distribute them via social media; and
  • rapStudy – a platform that helps children learn by integrating educational information into their favorite songs to increase engagement.

The five teams earned berths in the state competition by virtue of their performances in a regional event held in March. The teams were mentored by Felix Litvinsky, managing director of Blackstone LaunchPad at Cornell.

“In these unprecedented times, Cornell teams demonstrated the highest levels of professionalism, resilience and willingness to excel,” Litvinsky said. “I am confident they will do great in the NYBPC finals and beyond.”

Dream Haus co-founder Oren Michaely ’20 said the visual nature of their technology would help buyers convey to agents what they want, and don’t want, in a home.

“Realtors often show clients 12 houses on average and ask them to fill out questionnaires just trying to understand their tastes,” Michaely said. “That’s because home buyers have a hard time articulating exactly what they like. But when they’re prompted by images, they can say if an image appeals to them.”

Other members of the team include Christopher Gartrell ’20, Max Melamed ’20, and Alexandra Shamir, a University of Utah graduate.

“One of the huge ways Cornell has helped us is through the breadth of knowledge of the faculty,” said Melamed, noting faculty helped with their business plan, their communications strategy and their technology. “Our algorithms aren’t just ones that a couple of undergrads cooked up in a garage somewhere.”

Polici aims to democratize research for those who traditionally have limited access to it, according to co-founder Aadi Kulkarni ’22.

“We realized that academic information stays siloed at universities, think tanks and research centers despite massive public relations efforts to communicate the work,” said Kulkarni, who started the company with Henry Manley ’22. “By translating and distributing results of research nationwide, Polici democratizes research and gets it into the hands of those underserved.”

PediCure, which has a patent pending, has already been financially backed by the National Science Foundation, the New York State Department of Health, Cornell’s eLab business accelerator, and Women Entrepreneurship Cornell. The company, founded by Jessica Tao ’20, grew out of the state health department’s 2018 Aging Innovation Challenge, which prompted teams to design products that could make aging more empowering and independent.

With Coatable – founded by Bryan Zin ’21 and Sparsh Gupta ’21 – lenders would send in coats and other winter wear, which the company would launder and inspect. Borrowers would pay a monthly subscription, allowing them to search for items they need and switch them out for new items whenever they want. Lenders would be paid when someone chooses to rent their items.

Along with saving money, Coatable helps solve the environmental issue of discarded clothing.

“Our method is more sustainable than going out to buy clothes,” Gupta said, noting that 3.8 billion pounds of textiles are wasted every year.

Zin said they hope to be launch the business this summer in Ithaca.

RapStudy’s co-founders are Drew Speckman ’21, Cosimo Fabrizio ’22, Adrian Lee ’22 and Reza Madhavan ’22.

The business plan competition is divided into six tracks: AgTech and Food; Energy and Environment; Military and First Responder;  MedTech and Well-Being; Technology and Entertainment; and Consumer Products and Services.

Kathy Hovis is a writer for Entrepreneurship at Cornell.

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