The 2018-2019 Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Startup Challenge took place on May 3rd with 27 teams from across Penn to compete for a chance to win $135,000 in cash and prizes. Eliot Ingram, who has more than 21 years of experience in MBA admissions and is the founder of Clear Admit, headed out to Wharton’s Huntsman’s Hall to experience the event first hand.
Here’s what his experience was like.
Choosing the Finalists
The morning was taken up by 27 semi-finalist teams presenting in front of a panel of judges. From there, the teams were narrowed down to eight finalists who would present in the afternoon. When Eliot arrived at 1:30 pm, he was just in time to hear the final pitches. Each team was given about six minutes to present and then had about 12 minutes to answer questions from four judges, all of whom had experience as venture capitalists.
According to Eliot, the teams gave high-quality presentations. Compared to other early-stage investor conferences, Eliot felt these teams were competitive, and it was clear Penn Startup venture did a great job coaching each team through the process.
“They each did a great job of conveying the key parts of an investor pitch,” he said. “In addition, the management teams seemed to be a good fit for the business ideas they were presenting. Furthermore, each of the teams did a good job of answering the questions posed by the judges.”
The results were especially impressive given the tight time restriction for each pitch. The teams had to choose what to focus on and make a good argument all in six minutes. Most teams focused on the market size, problem, their solution, and why their team had a competitive advantage rather than financial projection or exit strategies, which must have been a deliberate decision.
The 8 Competitors
- Aerate: Aerate is an innovative air conditioning unit that is 20 times more efficient than current air conditioners. Given the vast market for air conditioning, the rising middle class in India, and the harm that current air conditioners do to the environment, they offered a compelling, scalable tech solution that met a broad market while limiting the environmental impact. (Team members: Spencer Collins, Jake Fine, Ashwin Kishen, Yann Pfitzer, Conner Sendel, Sam Weintraub)
- Strella Biotech: Strella Biotech offers an innovative and patented way to help fruit packers minimize food waste and maximize produce quality. They do this by using biosensors that measure the ethylene in fruit in order to determine which fruit is ripe and needs to be taken out of the warehouse and sold in the market. (Team members: Katherine Sizov, Malika Shukurova, Reginald Lamaute, Zuyang Liu)
- Minimize: Minimize is a wearable device that counteracts hand tremors using the same technology that allows buildings to survive earthquakes. It can reduce tremors by up to 95% for Essential Tremor and Parkinson Disease patients. (Team member: Maanav Narula)
- Halo: Halo is a digital monitor attached to taxis or Uber/Lyft cars, which allows advertisers to offer location-enabled digital ads while providing the driver with incremental revenue. (Team members: Kenan Saleh, Faizan Bhatty, Nabeel Farooqi, Ryanne Fadel)
- Clove: Clove is a shoe design company that creates a shoe customized for health care professionals who spend a lot of time on their feet walking around. Their idea is to build a brand in the health care industry and have brand devotion be the key barrier to entry. (Team members: Joe Ammon, Jordyn Amoroso, Paula Belatti)
- #PeriodPainFree: #PeriodPainFree offers a women’s health solution based on Chinese herbal medicine and modern technology. It’s a personalized solution to help the 80% of women who experience period pains. (Team members: Lulu Ge, Nicole Glathe)
- Aavrani: Aavrani offers a premium skincare product line inspired by India’s ancient beauty rituals. One of the team members had experience growing a skin care product line from $3 million to $50 million, so they had the expertise needed to deliver clean, non-toxic products. (Team members: Rooshy Roychoudhury, Justin Silver, Nina Davuluri)
- Sigo Insurance: Sigo Insurance offers an auto insurance product tailored for non-traditional or high-risk customers. The company brings the insurance process online to reduce operating costs and remove predatory fees. (Team members: Nestor Hugo Solari, Julio Erdos)
Eight pitches over 2.5 hours is a lot of information over a long time, which was challenging to handle and remain engaged.
“To be honest, while all of the presentations were quite good, after about an hour of listening to three pitches, my mind was getting fatigued with the amount of information being presented,” Eliot remembered. “In fact, I think that the first three teams had a decided advantage in terms of maintaining audience interest, particularly since the first team that presented won first place and the second team that presented won 2nd place.”
After all the finalists presented, the judges met for about an hour to decide on the conference winners. During this time, the presenters and the attendees enjoyed booths in the conference hall, a few speeches, as well as a people’s choice voting on the eight finalists. As part of this process, the same eight teams each gave a one-minute elevator pitch in front of the audience.
The winners were:
- Aerate: Grand Prize, Blank Award Winner, Gloeckner Undergraduate Award Winner, & People’s Choice Award Winner
- Strella Biotech: Runner-Up
- Minimize: Innovation Award
- Halo: Launch Award
Overall, Eliot was quite impressed with the high quality of the teams and their presentations.
“There are clearly some talented innovators within the Penn student community,” Eliot said. “In addition, it’s clear that the Penn Wharton Startup Showcase did a good job of helping these teams refine their pitches and getting them ready to meet with investors.”