UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Six teams of students pitched their entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of expert judges during the final round of the IdeaMakers Challenge. The competition’s conclusion was held March 28 as part of Penn State Startup Week.
The semester-long project challenged teams to identify a problem and propose a solution with information technology as a core component. Teams were required to have students from at least two different colleges to compete in the interdisciplinary challenge, where they worked to develop five-minute pitches for a chance to bring their ideas to life.
“Participating in events like IdeaMakers gives students a platform to really practice their skills,” said Alison Murphy, assistant professor of information sciences and technology and the event’s organizer. “Being an entrepreneur requires skills that are difficult to obtain in a traditional classroom, such as problem identification, idea generation, customer discovery, pitching, fielding hard questions about business models, managing failure, and taking in feedback to improve the idea. IdeaMakers participants are sharpening these skills at each event they attend.”
To join the challenge, the teams completed an application in January. Selected teams spent February working with experts at Happy Valley LaunchBox to refine their ideas and prepare for three-minute semi-final pitches. Then, six teams advanced to the finals and spent March working with a faculty mentor to strengthen their presentations before giving their final pitches to the judges and a live audience during Penn State Startup Week.
The winning idea came from Team HemoGO, a smartphone application that tests blood using a smart case and blood test strips, saving chronically ill patients time and money by minimizing trips to the doctor.
“It’s exciting,” said HemoGO member Sherveen Karbasiafshar, a junior majoring in biology. “We started in May. I never thought we’d present [our idea]. It’s proof that if you put in the time, you can make an idea come to life.”
He and his fellow teammates — College of Engineering student James Frazier and Eberly College of Science students Matthew Chen, Steve Flanagan, and Catherine Karbasi — were awarded the challenge’s first-place prize of a paid trip to this year’s GrowCo Entrepreneurship Conference in New Orleans.
Members of the second-place team, Kijenzi — College of IST students Chandler Goewert, Luke Pinto, and Akhil Pothana, and College of Engineering students Dhruv Kakran, Daniel Kats, and Shannon McKee — also won a trip to the GrowCo Entrepreneurship Conference. They pitched a printing business that aims to provide 3-D printing of medical equipment parts to rural areas of Kenya. The group is presently working with a team in Kenya to advance the project.
“Our motivation is that we can put the system into the hands of the end user and watch them use it,” explained Goewert.
The third-place idea team, MATIBABU, pitched the development of a device and interface that allows a team in Uganda to scan patients’ fingers for Malaria and delivers results via text message. Team members included College of Engineering students Abdoulaye Diallo, Connor Foust, Quiwei Li, and Joseph Ulsh, and Eberly College of Science student Skyler Nordmeyer.
In the finals, teams pitched to a panel of judges, each of which was a Penn State alumnus and successful entrepreneur. Judges included Jason Cohen (class of 2014), founder and CEO of Gastrograph; Paul Horn (class of 2004), national partner and sales executive at Microsoft; and Nayeem Hussain (class of 2015), founder and CEO of Keen Home and winner of ABC’s "Shark Tank."
“I love inviting Penn State alumni to be our judges because it celebrates two core Penn State values: excellence and service,” noted Murphy. “These judges have demonstrated excellence in their careers; they are successful entrepreneurs and industry experts. Inviting them back as judges helps acknowledge and celebrate their accomplishments.”
“It’s great to be here to help build the next generation of entrepreneurs,” added Horn. “I was shocked, in a positive way, to see the interdisciplinary focus spread across the teams.”