Four teams of undergraduate students were named winners of the Big Ideas Competition at Cornell, with ideas that help musicians connect, detect heart problems, train unemployed young adults and help with pollution issues in developing countries.
More than 60 teams entered the 2021 Cornell competition (the largest in the Blackstone LaunchPad network), with business ideas in four tracks: consumer products, health and life sciences, social impact and general. The final 12 presented their ideas at a Nov. 17 pitch competition, which was sponsored by Blackstone LaunchPad at Cornell and Entrepreneurship at Cornell.
Judges for the event were Ryoko Nozawa, Cayuga Venture Fund; Greg Galvin, Rheonix; Jenna Winocur, Spark of Hudson; Todd Edmonds, Iron Design; and Pam Silverstein, Life Changing Labs.
Auni, the idea that was chosen as winner of the general track, is an app to help artists within the music industry — vocalists, musicians, sound engineering, lyricists, producers, composers — connect with one another.
“Artists in the early stages of their music careers don’t have connections within the industry to create the teams they need,” said Praveen Gunendran ‘24, who teamed up with Daniel Tuan ’24 on the idea. They refer to the business as “tinder for music artists. Both are students in the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.
Along with connecting artists, the app would also provide an open platform for artists to chat with one another and grow their networks.
Winner in the health and life sciences category, Cardo Vigi, is a wearable device that would instantly alert first responders and family when a cardiovascular event occurs.
Founder Tori DiStefano ’22, a Milstein Program in Technology and Humanity Scholar in the College of Arts & Sciences, lost her grandfather this year to a heart attack, prompting her to work on the idea. “Noticing symptoms isn’t always enough for people to receive proper medical care,” she said. “Many people receive care too late.”
ITReady, winner in the social impact category, helps train unemployed young people in the West African country of Togo in computer science skills and guide them to find careers.
“Togo has a very young population and as more people are able to access technology, there is an increasing need for IT support,” said Gbedasso Pitang ’25, a biology and society major in A&S, who founded the company with Victoria Montero ’20 MPH ’22 and Crystal Argüelles ’23, also a biology and society major in A&S. Pitang was born and raised in Togo and all three founder are members of the Cornell College and Career Readiness Initiative, which mentors young adults in their transitions to college and careers.
In the consumer products category, the winner was Fan Aid, founded by Ian Shen-Costello ’23, an idea that would provide affordable residential ventilation systems in developing countries.
The idea addresses a worldwide problem for 2.6 billion people, who still rely on indoor fires for cooking, causing pollution that leads to 4 million deaths each year, mostly of children, said Costello, an environmental engineering major.
The fan doesn’t require electricity and could be created on a 3-D printer to save costs, he said.
The Big Ideas competition took place at 45 schools across the world this fall, said Felix Litvinsky, director of Blackstone LaunchPad at Cornell, and Cornell won special recognition from Blackstone for having the most student idea applications.
“We are so proud of our Cornell students and their entrepreneurial ambitions,” he said. To find out more about Cornell resources related to entrepreneurship, visit the Entrepreneurship at Cornell website.