Pitch Competition at Princeton’s Engage 2020 Features Startups from New Jersey, New York

At Engage 2020, Princeton University and Startup Grind Princeton held a pitch competition to showcase startups.

The competition was hosted by David Stengle, director of Startup Grind Princeton, and featured judges Alex Dundara, senior manager at Withum (Princeton); Greggory Elias, founder and CEO of Skim AI (New York); and Jessica Perry, principal at Six Doors (New York).

The winners of the competition were cofounders Rajesh Ranjan, CEO, and Pawan Khurana, COO of  CertOnce (Princeton). CertOnce is developing a blockchain-based system to verify educational credentials. Khurana started the pitch by recounting how difficult it had been for him to get his credentials sent from his undergraduate university in India to Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, so he could apply for grad school.

“So, while applying for an MBA degree at Stevens, it took me, with my friend’s uncle’s help in India, to go to my undergrad school in India, get the bank check, and also the $25 postage fee, around five hours of work on multiple calls and five weeks to finally get my verified bachelor’s degree certificate to Stevens.”

Ranjan continued the pitch by noting that today’s digital solutions are lacking because many of them can be tampered with. The CertOnce solution “involves blockchain-verified credentials that are tamper-proof, can be shared in one click and can be instantly independently verified online.” He added that the company’s building blocks consist of blockchain, cryptography and public key infrastructure, and that he believed that there’s a $1.9 billion addressable market for this service.

John T. Williams, founder and CEO of Build Financial Technology, a New York fintech startup, discussed his company’s easy-to-open, high-yield savings account, which comes with a debit Mastercard. Users are automatically enrolled in Build Financial’s cash savings rewards program. “Our solution is automated and under the radar, so they don’t even notice they’re saving. It’s like Uber, but for saving, rather than spending money.”

Williams noted that 85 million Americans couldn’t come up with $400 in an emergency, and that 62 percent of Americans don’t have $1,000 in savings. He added that the key to user adoption is making it easy for people to open an account through the app, set up emergency savings goals, enroll in direct deposit and begin funding their accounts.

Also presenting was Murat Sonmez, founder of  Piscataway-based Trustd.ai. Trustd.ai is a new, comprehensive way to measure trustworthiness, enabling hosts, such as those who rent out Airbnb accommodations, to know more about their guests before they arrive, thereby ensuring a secure stay. Sonmez said that this solution addresses the dark side of the sharing economy. The company has developed an artificial-intelligence algorithm that takes into account multiple means of verification to create a “trust confidence score.”

DataBiologics (Cedar Knolls), represented by cofounder and partner Gerard Malanga, is a stand-alone data-collection organization founded in 2018. DataBiologics says on its website, “We have a vision of connecting doctors and patients through data collection to create a comprehensive view of the success of regenerative medicine and minimally invasive procedures. The initial focus of the company is to determine the safety and efficacy of regenerative treatments for orthopedic/neuromusculoskeletal conditions.”

The final presentation was made by Sue Scheuermann, CEO of VoteLight (Trenton), a civic platform aimed at getting all stakeholders involved in the political system. “VoteLight is for voters, elected officials, groups, media and governmental entities who want a better way to effectively communicate with each other regarding the issues that impact our day-to-day lives to drive action based on real-time public opinion,” the company said in a statement. The market for this is huge, considering that during the 2020 elections, the total advertising spend was more than $6 billion, Scheuermann said.

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