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From lost items to athletic gear, undergrads win for big ideas

A pair of lost tweezers in her dorm helped Caroline Zhu ’26 come up with the idea for her business, LAFT, which helps connect people to things they lost.

“At Cornell, we’ve seen far too many Instagram stories of ‘dm if you lost this’ and even side chat posts that go along these lines: ‘hey I lost my black leather jacket at phi delt … it’s 20 years old and it’s from my dad who passed away,’” said Zhu, an applied economics and management major in the Dyson School, who thought of the idea with Cooper Proctor ’26, a computer science major from the College of Engineering. “Our app is a community platform that connects those who lose things to those who find them.”

LAFT is one of four undergraduate teams with business ideas who won this year’s Big Ideas Competition, sponsored by Blackstone LaunchPad, Startup Tree and Entrepreneurship at Cornell. Winners receive $2,000 and mentorship from Cornell’s Blackstone LaunchPad to help them develop their ideas into potential businesses.

Participants chose one of the following tracks: social and climate impact; health and life science; consumer products and services; and general.

Rachel Bonnet’s ’24 idea is TEKs, a track spike cover that allows athletes to safely walk on surfaces other than the track while maintaining the integrity of their spikes.

“I came up with this idea when I was in high school, however it has become much more relevant now that I am a collegiate athlete,” said Bonnet, a hospitality major and heptathlete on Cornell's track and field team. “While spikes are essential for maximizing performance, they cannot be safely worn on other surfaces besides the track as there is minimal traction between the spike and the other surfaces such as concrete. Furthermore, walking on these surfaces will dull the spikes, causing the athlete to run slower.” Bonnet has a patent pending on her idea.

James Wylie Deitch ’23 won the health track competition for his company Waypoint, which will offer a platform for people with chronic illnesses to track their health journey and to connect with others going through similar issues.

“I got very sick in 2019 and spent the next three years on a medical leave, where I learned that the process of being a patient is lonely and often not linear,” said Deitch, an ILR major who won an MIT Hacking Medicine Hackathon in 2020 for a prior version of the idea. “I took notes on my experience, from diagnosis to treatment to returning to health. I also met hundreds of others like me and it soon became clear that there is a huge community of chronic illness patients left in the dark.”

Joshua Lora ’23, a Dyson School student, won the prize in the general category for Adela, a platform that connects young entrepreneurs to market and financing opportunities and helps small business owners plan for their exits upon retirement.

“It’s great to see consistently high participation by undergrads each year,” said Peter Cortle ’11, founder and CEO of StartupTree. “The experience gained by students through this competition often become the stepping stone for their future entrepreneurial pursuits. We hope even more undergrads benefit from this wonderful opportunity and resource moving forward.” 

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