Student and professional entrepreneurs from across the U.S. gathered Nov. 11 in Behrakis Grand Hall for competition and networking at Drexel University’s Startup Day.
Featured activities included the Baiada Institute Incubator Competition, the Fast Pitch Competition and a panel discussion with field experts.
The day started off with a networking expo, where attendees could visit various tables hosted by startups and Drexel representatives. Then came the panel discussion, titled “Starter’s Review: Women in Entrepreneurship.”
The discussion was moderated by Donna De Carolis, founding dean of Drexel’s Charles D. Close School of Entrepreneurship.
The panelists were Dawn Quaker, co-founder of Profillic; Lindsay Tabas, a designer and developer for digital products and a startup consultant; Melissa Schipke, a local Philadelphia entrepreneur and founder of Tassl; and finally Archna Sahay, the director of entrepreneurial investment for the City of Philadelphia.
After the panel discussion came the Fast Pitch Competition final round. In the preliminary round, a group of random judges made up of community members and faculty had picked six students representing five different pitch concepts to go on to the second round. In the final round, those pitching spoke for two minutes each in front of a panel of judges for the opportunity to win $1,000 towards their pitched concepts.
The first pitch came from two students interested in starting a small company that would offer language-learning services in a novel and immersive fashion, which they called Renaissance Language Learners.
“Imagine if we could bring to you this immersive, novel, awe-inspiring experience, that takes cultural immersion and brings it right to your computer,” representatives from Renaissance Language Learners explained in the pitch. The concept they presented offered games, videos, and simulations that would help the user learn the language naturally.
Next up was Buck DIY, presented by entrepreneurship and innovation student Moe Salama. “Home improvement can be easy, and that’s where Buck steps in. What Buck is, is a home improvement DIY delivery box,” explained Salama in his fast pitch. “Do it yourself with a little bit of help from Buck,” he concluded.
Chemical engineering major Tapiwanashe Ndlovu began his pitch with the question “What is Africa to you?”
The startup concept pitched a platform that would help bring together information about Africa to give interested users a better search engine and unified site to find out more information on the country.
“There’s a big disconnect between what the world thinks of Africa and what Africa is really about,” he explained. The company would bring information about study opportunities, business opportunities, investment possibilities and more together on the same web-based platform.
Next up was a pitch for a new product that could detect cancer developing in users early on with a non-invasive process: brushing teeth.
The pitch offered the concept of the Smart Brush. It would be a toothbrush you could use twice a day that could analyze users’ saliva to search for markers that signal the rise of diseases including hepatitis and several types of cancer. The brush would send information to users’ phones, where they could view results with an app.
Lastly, business major Matt Esposito presented a concept for his startup Silk. “At Silk we are developing a platform that will easily connect local, individual and independent tour guides with travelers that travel to their destination,” Esposito explained.
The concept behind the startup is that travelers can get the best experience from a tour when they are being shown around by natives of the towns and countries they are visiting, who are really interested in showing them around. The startup would connect users with a supposedly widely unused base of independent tour guides in several locations around the world.
After the fast pitch competition, the judges left the room to deliberate while Philadelphia native and Temple graduate Nicole Marquis, the founder of HipCityVeg, gave a 20-minute talk on her experience opening a fully plant-based restaurant in the middle of the Great Recession, in the heart of Philadelphia.
HipCityVeg has two locations now, one in Rittenhouse Square which opened in April 2012, and another in Washington. Marquis is also the creator of plant-based restaurants Charlie Was A Sinner and Bar Bombon. Though she never had any business schooling and instead focused her learning in theater and the arts, she felt prepared to tackle a restaurant concept.
“I never had any formal business education, and even though I loved theater, I never tried to make any money out of it. In retrospect, however, it became clear to me that there is a lot of theatrics in creating a restaurant concept. Running a restaurant is not all that different from directing a play,” the keynote speaker said.
Marquis went on to describe her model for forming a successful business. “Articulate your plan, know your passion, a build your mindset with determination,” she advised the audience.
She spoke in detail about the passion she had to effect a positive social change through a restaurant serving only plant-based foods. Without that passion, she noted, it would have been nearly impossible to follow through with her business plans.
“I want you to appreciate the importance of finding your own passion, something beyond the desire of profit, a mission that helps you get through the rough times,” she explained.
Following Marquis’ speech, six different startup businesses presented 10-minute plans and presentations to the judges.
The companies included Oratio, led by Danish Dhamani; Circalux, led by David Hanrahan; Know Your Rights, led by Maggie Treutig; Boost Linguistics led by Ethan Breshanan; AneeLondon, presented by Rachel Benyola; and SLEEP: Sleep Level Eye Epsy Product, presented by Josue Manjarrez.
Oratio is a platform that uses artificial intelligence and video software to evaluate the user’s speaking and provide insight and feedback for improvement.
Circalux offered a new type of lighting that would be beneficial for night-time use in hospitals, nurseries, and other applications. The light would be adjusted so as not to disturb someone sleeping when it was turned on. Know
Your Rights is a company dedicated to providing counseling and legal advice to those in need of it but not sure where to look.
Boost Linguistics offers a software that filters through samples of writing for words that trigger certain emotions. This could be helpful to companies looking to elicit trust, excitement, or more with their product descriptions and ads.
AneeLondon is a company producing a cheaper, more stylish, protective and collapsible bike helmet.
SLEEP aims to provide users with statistics on their sleeping habits with better accuracy than other devices currently on the market.
When the judges made the final call, Boost Linguistics won third place, securing $5,000; Aneelondon won second place, winning $7,500; and Oratio.ai won first place, with $12,500 towards its business.
Additionally, the students who pitched the Renaissance Language Learners concept won $1,000 towards their startup concept.
Co-founder of Oratio, Paritosh Gupta was excited about the win, and about the company. “What we’re building is a technology to help people communicate better. Speech is one of the most personal things that you give to another person. A lot of people are in a shell and they’re afraid of public speaking, they have great ideas but cannot communicate about them enough. We hope that in the coming future our technology will help people get out of their shell,” Gupta explained.
Following the announcements of winners, the day ended with a happy hour networking opportunity.