The IST IdeaMaker Challenge, which was started last year at Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology, encourages entrepreneurial-minded students across the University to develop innovative solutions to big problems. The winners of the 2015 competition upped the ante by using technology to improve upon current practices in areas such as medicine, health and 3-D printing.
“They’re all leveraging information technology as a way of providing a solution,” said Lee Erickson, faculty adviser for the challenge and lecturer in the College of IST.
In the IST IdeaMaker Challenge, cross-college teams identify a big problem and a potential solution, then pitch their idea to a panel of industry judges. The solution must leverage information technology as a key component of the business model. The challenge kicked off on March 4 with three-minute rocket pitches. Six teams were selected to advance to the second round where they worked with an industry mentor to refine their pitches for the finals that were held on April 15 as part of IST Start-up Week.
The first-place winning team in the challenge was MichelAngelo RobotScope, consisting of Brennan Cornell, Josh Kessler, Brandon Leshchinskiy, Lingqiu Jin and Matt Malencia—all engineering and math majors. For their project, they used a combination of robotics and algorithms to create an endoscope that pivots and moves in different directions, allowing for greater precision when used by a doctor.
“Current endoscopes are not able to perform complex procedures,” Cornell said.
The IdeaMaker Challenge is just one step along the path that this team is taking towards becoming full-fledged entrepreneurs. They are also among the winners of the Penn State Summer Founders Program, in which six Penn State teams were awarded $10,000 each to work on their startup for the summer.
The IdeaMaker Challenge, the team members said, gave them a taste of what to expect when they enter the startup world.
“It gave us pitch experience,” said Cornell, adding that the team is looking to license its product.
The second-place winning team in the IdeaMaker Challenge was BioStrap, consisting of Laila Saghian, Yi-Ting Wu, Hui Zheng, Alice Chen and Vernon Martin. The team created a wearable device for people who have had strokes, allowing them to get better feedback on their physical therapy.
The third-place winner in the challenge was Mobium, consisting of Kevin Paroda and Justin Keenan. 3-D printing has become increasingly popular in recent years, Erickson said, but the process can be rather cumbersome since only one item can be printed at a time. The Mobium team created a conveyor belt that would move items off the machine after they have been printed, allowing for printing in batches without the need for someone to manually move the objects.
According to Erickson, this year’s IdeaMaker Challenge surpassed last year’s competition in several areas. First, there was greater representation from the Penn State student body. Twenty-three teams competed in the 2015 challenge, compared to nine in the previous year. Ten colleges were represented, Erickson said, and there was also an all-freshman team. In addition, the judging criteria placed a heavier emphasis on leveraging technology as a key component of the solution.
“They really had to outline the role information technology played,” Erickson said.
In addition to placing a greater emphasis on IT solutions, she said, one aim of this year’s competition was to help the students pursue their entrepreneurial interests to a greater degree. Each of the six final teams was connected with a mentor to help them refine their ideas. Additionally, both the first- and second-place teams will get to network with startups and learn from other entrepreneurs. Thanks to the gracious participation of Penn State alumni, the first-place team will travel to Silicon Valley and San Francisco to visit Jim Janicik, COO of Arx Pax, Matt Brezina (2003 graduate in engineering), CEO and co-founder of Sincerely and David Rusenko (2007 graduate in IST), CEO and co-founder of Weebly. The second-place team will visit Conscious Venture Labs as well as the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation at Children’s National Health System.
“We want to give students a pathway to connect with entrepreneurs to continue to move their ideas forward,” Erickson said.