Rutgers Team Wins 2024 UPitchNJ for Portable Home Security System Pitch

By Esther Surden, with Susan Scherreik

In April, nine New Jersey colleges and universities each sent a team to UPitchNJ, which took place at NJIT.

UPitchNJ is a statewide collegiate business model competition showcasing the Garden State’s top college entrepreneurial talent.

The 2024 event was sponsored by Nokia Bell Labs (Murray Hill) and supported by entrepreneurship education programs at participating colleges and universities. The competitors came from Drew University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, NJIT, Princeton University, Ramapo College of New Jersey, Rutgers University–New Brunswick, Rutgers University–Newark, Seton Hall University and William Paterson University.


Rutgers University–New Brunswick won first place ($2,000 prize) with HomeGuard, a portable home-security solution designed for dorms and apartment-style residences that is affordable and easy to install. Making the pitch were founder Anjo Therattil, a sophomore who is majoring in electrical and computer engineering, and James Machado, a sophomore who is majoring in computer science and physics. Their faculty adviser was Lori Dars, associate director of economic development and innovation, at Rutgers’ New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.  The team also won the $500 Audience Choice Award.

The second-place winner ($1,500) was Seton Hall University’s Pirate’s Closet, a nonprofit organization that provides suits and other business attire for job interviews and professional networking events to students free of charge. Pitching were seniors Jason Santos, a quantitative economics and mathematical finance major; Julia Boivin, a business administration and management, marketing and finance major; and Kyle Torre, a business administration major. The faculty adviser was Susan Scherreik, founding director, Stillman Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The third-place winner ($1,000) was Sajha Notes, founded by sophomore Rohit Rauniyar, who is majoring in computer science at William Paterson University. Rohit’s app is designed to assist students in his native Nepal with academic assignments.  His faculty adviser was Ana Cristina Siqueira, associate professor of management.

Drew University won the Best Early Stage Startup prize ($1,500) for Scholasto, a scholarship-driven platform designed to boost opportunities for underrepresented, college-aged youth in Mexico. It revolutionizes how prospective students and philanthropic professionals connect, transforming the landscape of international educational fundraising and allowing everyone to do good with a simple swipe. The founder is senior Luis Enrique Lopez Rios, a finance major. His faculty adviser was Ann Mills, adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Economics and Business Studies.

Mentoring and Judging by Bell Labs

The judges for the competition were all from Nokia Bell Labs, including: Thierry Klein, president of Bell Labs Solutions Research; Amine Houyou, head of the Integrated Solutions and Experiences Lab; Jani Kangas, senior business and strategic innovations executive; Sean Kennedy, lab leader of the AI Research Lab; Volker Hilt, lab leader of the System Architecture & Solution Design Lab; Kelly Wang, research scientist at the AI Research Lab; and Stacy Kornhauser, project manager team lead.

Michael Ehrlich, associate professor of finance at NJIT and a cochair of UPitchNJ, hosted the event.

Commenting on the competition, Klein said, “As Nokia’s award-winning industrial research lab, Bell Labs is focused on solving problems to address human needs through the power of human intellect. By working with leading universities and academic institutions, we can accelerate innovation to transform the way we live. We are very proud to continue our support of the UPitchNJ competition as one of the premier entrepreneurship competitions in New Jersey. We are excited to foster the next generation of technology and business innovators that will make a profound impact on society.”

In his keynote to the students, Klein stressed how much he and his colleagues enjoy working with the state’s college entrepreneurs. “This is the best day of the last several months for us,” he said. “There is nothing better than hearing about what everyone is thinking about, what you are working on and what you are excited about. There is so much innovation in New Jersey. Historically, we have been an innovation state.”

Klein also praised the state of New Jersey for its recent push to brand New Jersey as a leader in AI. He cited the Choose New Jersey campaign that included a billboard in downtown San Francisco boasting that New Jersey is “the next home” of AI.

“Let’s be bold, let’s be ambitious and let’s just see what we can do. And that starts with innovation … and all of the ideas that bubble up,” Klein told the students

To help the undergraduate entrepreneurship students prepare for the competition, Nokia Bell Labs paired many of the student startup teams with a Bell Labs senior executive, who served as a mentor to the team. 

 “We are extremely grateful to Nokia Bell Labs for this extraordinary and innovative collaboration,” said Scherreik. “UPitchNJ showcases the best and brightest young entrepreneurs from all over the Garden State. Thanks to the coaching the teams are receiving from New Jersey’s top corporate research scientists at Nokia Bell Labs, our collegiate entrepreneurship students can take their startups to new heights.”

The student teams were judged on the innovation and originality of their startup ideas and on the quality of their oral presentations. The contest judges also looked for creative and innovative thinking about markets, products and services. Each student team was also evaluated on its perceived ability to execute its idea and turn it into a viable, profitable business or venture with significant social value. 


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