The Leading Independent
Resource for Top-tier MBA
Home » Blog » News » Ideas to Transform the World Win Big at Business Plan Competitions

Ideas to Transform the World Win Big at Business Plan Competitions

Image for Ideas to Transform the World Win Big at Business Plan Competitions

April showers bring May flowers, or so the saying goes. But at top-tier business schools from coast to coast and beyond, April business plan competitions brought a shower of exciting ventures—including ones that promise to clean the oceans, detect lung cancer in a person’s breath and transform digital text into Braille on e-readers for the blind.

Harvard Business School and the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School both held finals in their annual venture competitions last week, on Tuesday (April 26th) and Friday (April 29th) respectively. Between the two schools, more than $425,000 in cash and in-kind prizes were awarded. The Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley, meanwhile, kicked off the month of competitions from afar, holding the final round of its Global Social Venture Competition in Thailand on April 1st and 2nd.

Healthcare Cleans Up at HBS
Each year in April, HBS holds its New Venture Competition (NVC) Finale, placing four teams of finalists in each of three competitive tracks—business, social enterprise and alumni—in front of the audience and judges to deliver their 90-second final pitches.

Astraeus Technologies took the grand prize—and $50,000 in cash—in the business track for its revolutionary healthcare technology providing a fast, noninvasive screening for lung cancer. “We are Astraeus Technologies and we are going after lung cancer,” said Jay Kumar, Harvard dual MD-MBA student, kicking off his winning pitch. A team made up of two Harvard dual MD-MBA students, one Harvard med student and an MIT PhD, Astraeus has developed the smaller-than-a-credit-card “L-Card,” which can diagnose lung cancer from a person’s breath. “You breathe on this and it tells a smart phone whether you have lung cancer,” Kumar explained. He went on to add that the technology is cheaper, easier to use and more accurate that existing CT scans. The market opportunity? Eight to nine billion dollars a year, he says. At present, Astraeus is awaiting FDA approval to move into clinical trials.

A healthcare-focused venture also took grand prize in the social enterprise track. UrSure, Inc. won $50,000 for its solution designed to encourage adherence to HIV preventive drugs. UrSure was founded by Philadelphia practicing physician Helen Koenig and Giffin Daughtridge, a dual MD-public policy student at the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard’s Kennedy School. Together, they have created a way to measure the usage of preventative drug PrEP that doesn’t involve shots in the arm, but instead a simple urine test. “It’s as easy as one, two, pee,” Daughtridge pitched.

A third health-care focused venture—Confi—won $25,000 as runner up and another $2,000 as crowd favorite in the social enterprise track. Founded by four women—two second-year HBS MBA students and two Harvard undergraduates—it’s an online resource for women’s health issues and sexual assault prevention that the founders describe as “crowdsourcing big sister advice.”

Healthcare ventures also factored prominently in the alumni track, where the second-place $25,000 prize went to EverlyWell, a venture founded by Julia Cheek (MBA ’11) to provide easy, convenient, at-home diagnostic health tests for conditions ranging from food sensitivity to metabolism to women’s fertility. The Crowd Favorite prize of $2,000 went to ConnectHealth, Inc., a venture founded by Peter Park (MBA ’08) to connect doctors in Africa with patients who need their care via mobile devices.

To be sure, though, not every winning venture tackled healthcare concerns. Although it could be argued that Getaway, which won the $25,000 runner-up prize in the business track, also sets out to cure what ails some of us. Led by second-year HBS MBA student Jon Staff, the four-member Getaway team targets stressed-out overworked young professionals looking for a way to turn off. “In this connected age of phones buzzing off the hook, and bosses emailing you at 10 p.m., it is absolutely necessary to find ways to disconnect and recharge,” Staff said as he pitched to the crowd. The Getaway solution? Tiny homes outside of Boston and New York City that would-be corporate escapees can rent for $99 a night.

The $50,000 grand prize in the alumni track also went to a venture outside the healthcare field. Cobli, founded by Parker Treacy (MBA ’12), harnesses big data to provide fleet and logistics intelligence to small business owners in Latin America, helping them understand where their vehicles are, identify inefficiencies and find solutions.

Hosted by the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship and the Social Enterprise Initiative at HBS, NVC is open to all students and alumni looking to launch new businesses and social impact ventures. Big winners in the past have included companies like Birchbox, Rent the Runway and CloudFlare. According to Social Enterprise Initiative Director Matt Segneri (MBA 2010), the social enterprise track drew 62 participating teams from across the university, a record number since the track’s 2001 launch.

The Harvard community—it seems—is taking to heart the advice of Professor of Business Administration William Sahlman, who gave opening remarks to the assembled crowd. “The greatest risk is the fear of failure,” he said. “We have to take responsibility for fixing the world’s problems, and look at those problems as opportunities.”

Clear Admit
The leading resource for top-tier MBA candidates.