Stevens Annual pitch Competition Awards Three Winners; LiftAssist Comes In First

{This article was reposted with permission of its author Natalie Todaro from The Stute, the Stevens Institute of Technology student newspaper. The original article appears here.)

Each year, Senior Design students present their final projects at the Innovation Expo, with an opportunity to potentially compete in the Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition that follows. This year’s teams competed on Friday, May 1, in Stevens’ first online version of the competition where judges spoke and winners were announced. First, second, and third place winners were, respectively, LiftAssist, receiving $10,000, Bia Home Energy Management System, receiving $5,000, and ToothPix Dental Imaging, receiving $2,500.

Out of over 100 teams, 18 were chosen as semifinalists to pitch their projects to a panel of judges by uploading 3 minute videos to YouTube, as opposed to the usual process of pitching to judges in person. This year’s panel of judges consisted of 12 volunteer business and community leaders, who asked their questions to students via Slack, where students were then able to directly respond and explain more about their company. Judges then voted on three teams to be recipients of monetary prizes, provided by the Cy and Jan Ansary Foundation.

The virtual competition was moderated by Aaron Price, CEO of The New Jersey Tech Council, who has been hosting the event for many years. As the event began, Price explained that “it seems each year, the level has gone up” in the quality of student projects. He stressed the importance of the range of companies that was present among the groups, as he stated that the competition is “a great representation of the disciplines that Stevens has and the solutions that students bring to the market.”

Judges were also able to give input and feedback on which company they would personally invest in, advice they have for entrepreneurs, and more. Several judges were Stevens alumni, including Brian Donohue ’11 and Laura Paglione ’90. Kristina Hahn from Google and Mark Kolb from Tech Council Ventures were also present, among others.

Hahn commented on this year’s method of using Slack as a way to initiate questions and answers, explaining, “I think it really pushed the students and not just having the two minute time frame to ask questions. I learned so much more about the companies.”

Paglione echoed this sentiment in suggesting that the online setting was the best that it could be. “Students did a really good job of expressing information, and everything was well researched. When questions were asked, they had enough research to answer.”

When asked about which company Donohue would invest in himself, he responded with the senior design team Joey, a product to hold technological devices, created by Ramya Sudhaker, Lauren Tencza, and Kathryn Tsui. Donohue explained that he would invest because he could see a clear product and direction within the company. “It seemed the most concrete,” he explained.

Price additionally asked Kolb which pitch he found the most creative, given this year’s restrictions and circumstances that limited creativity. He responded in expressing that he liked “the presentation of InstantaneICE. The students looked like they really loved what they were pitching.” He further explained that as an investor, he looks at the entrepreneurs and not the idea. He stated, “It’s about investing in the entrepreneur and in the team. I would always prefer to invest in a first class team and a second class idea, than a second class team and a first class idea.”

After feedback from the judges, President Nariman Farvardin and Provost Christophe Pierre took over to announce the three winners of the competition.

In third place, ToothPix Dental Imaging was given the prize of $2,500. Created by Abigail Clark, Christie Chen, Omar Maamoun, and Teny Odaimi, ToothPix is an intraoral scanner, aimed to “mitigate the discomfort of traditional impressions and improve the efficiency of the process, by utilizing cutting-edge dental technology, already on the market.” Instead of using traditional alginate paste to create impressions, ToothPix is a modular unit consisting of a scanner that makes the impression process easier.

In a joint statement, the students behind ToothPix expressed the following as a response to their receipt of third place: “Working with our team has been the most unique and rewarding experience. Each one of us brought a special talent and perspective to the project. We are overwhelmed with pride and appreciation for our 3rd Place award and want to thank Stevens, our advisors, and our sponsor 3DISC for making all of this possible! We truly believe in the ToothPix Dental Imaging mission and look forward to revolutionizing the future of dental imaging!”

In second place, Bia Home Energy Management System (Bia) was given the prize of $5,000. Created by Allyson Clark, Steven Gunarso, Fernando Hernandez, Kasey Suszko, and Justin Thompson, Bia aims to assist utility companies in keeping track of customer energy usage. Clark explained that “Bia is a two component system, consisting of a smart plug that reads energy data, and a smart phone app that displays it.” Using machine learning, the app can show users just how much energy each of their home appliances is using in real time, which can then be used to study energy data trends.

Suszko explained that the idea for Bia started last summer while she was on a bike ride with Clark: “We knew we wanted to work on a senior design project involving helping the environment and big data, and with brainstorming, we came up with the idea for Bia.” Additionally, each team member expressed how thrilled they were to place second in the competition after all of their hard work. Thompson explained, “I feel very happy and proud of our team for reaching second place. We put a lot of work into the project throughout the year, all the way up to these past few weeks.”

In first place, LiftAssist was given the prize of $10,000. Created by Alexandria Alberic-Brown, Tiffany Kern, Astik Risal, and Julia Servidio, LiftAssist is taglined as “Engineering Solutions for Innovative Patient Transfer.” LiftAssist puts the safety of clinicians first as practices of improper lifting of patients is extremely common in healthcare centers. Improper lifting can cause extreme joint pain and malfunction, and to combat this issue, the team created a two component device. The first is a vertical component that the patient lays on, and the second is a disposable horizontal component that produces a lateral slide. Brown explained that “the design is incorporated into the hospital bedding, to ensure the speed of transfer.”

Servidio expressed that, “Our product has so many real-world applications in making hospitals and other settings in the future run much more smoothly. With this crisis we are living in, people are finally realizing the importance of clinician safety and LiftAssist is one solution to that problem.” Brown additionally noted that when President Farvardin announced LiftAssist as the first place winner, her immediate reaction was “relief and tears of joy. As a team, we worked extremely hard on this pitch and I am so glad that this worked out for us. My plans in the future are to continue making a difference in the world but in particular the medical field. I know that many people at Stevens might not feel like their time here matters because […] honestly I felt like a failure. I didn’t have the highest GPA. I didn’t do a CO-OP or an internship. I’m a senior and I don’t even have a job lined up. But, to see my team’s hard work and dedication get recognized showed me that everyone’s time here at Stevens matters and you are noticed even if you don’t think so.”

The pitch competition is an opportunity for students to get their feet wet in the field of entrepreneurship and compete for a chance at a monetary prize. Each year it showcases new ideas by new students, and at the announcing of the winners, President Farvardin communicated that he is “inspired” and “in awe of the way that faculty, staff, and students have responded to these very unusual circumstances.” Thanking everyone who was involved in converting this year’s events to a virtual environment, he said, “Kudos to all members of our community.”

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