Student Companies Shine at Newark Innovation Acceleration Challenge


Geneo, a company run by New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) students, won first place at the 2011 Newark Innovation Acceleration Challenge, sponsored by Capital One Bank, last week. Geneo’s Kevin Ly successfully pitched the company’s noninvasive glucometer (it clips onto a patient’s ear), which uses infrared to continuously monitor blood sugar for better diabetes control. During questioning, judges were clearly impressed with the future technology, which can spare diabetics the pain of pricks to draw blood.

New Jersey Tech Weekly attended the packed event, which took place at the NJIT School of Management (Newark). Six students pitched to a panel of angel investors and Capital One (New York) bankers for a chance to develop their business ideas over a summer-long program at NJIT’s Enterprise Development Center and receive a $3,000 Capital One Innovation Acceleration fellowship. The challenge received 25 business plan entries from schools in Newark, including NJIT, Rutgers Business School and the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ). That group was narrowed down to the six students who were given the opportunity to pitch.

Other winners at the event included NJIT student Asim Zaman, who pitched for EnSYR, which stands for Energy Supply for Your Residence, a company aiming to create fuel cells that convert household garbage to electricity for homes. His company is based on disruptive technology being developed at NJIT. UMDNJ student Tolu Lanrewaju, who is developing OFYS, a web-based system to match students from underserved communities with mentors and tutors who come from similar communities, came in third.

The event was an impressive example of how businesses and universities can partner in New Jersey. A highlight was the obvious passion the project originators brought to the table. Professor Michael Ehrlich, NJ Innovation Acceleration Center cofounder and codirector, moderated the challenge. He pointed out that besides backing the Acceleration Challenge financially, Capital One had mentored the students, asking them the tough questions that helped direct them to the right answers for their fledgling businesses.

Capital One’s Gregory Smith, a senior vice president based in Edison, said Newark continues to be an important city for his bank. Programs like this one, he noted, let bankers, who are in a profession not held in high regard lately, give back to the community. The bankers get a chance to decompress and do some good, plus an opportunity to relearn what it is like to take a business from idea to revenue generator. “I think it has really helped us in a great way,” Smith said. Speaking to the students, he noted they had a special opportunity to pitch to bankers and angels and be mentored by bankers. This is not an experience a lot of colleges provide, he added.

Judges from Capital One included Edward Waterfield, market president of Morris and Union Counties; Richard Schnapper, market president of Westchester and Rockland Counties; Jon Trombley, market president of Monmouth, Somerset, Middlesex, Ocean and Mercer Counties; and Kevin Ferryman, senior vice president, business banking. Lending a hand from the VC and angel communities were Yaniv Sneor and John Asom, both angel investors, and William Reinisch, Paladin Capital Group (New York), a VC. Student pitches were judged on their ability to describe the problem, whether they had a credible solution to it and whether they could present a value proposition for the business.

The three students who did not win had compelling business plans. Hanni Abukhater of NJIT had an ingenious social media app called Group Hug, which lets people support each other as they try to kick bad habits. Bayan Abdi’s Elder Monitor protects elderly patients by continuously monitoring their vital signs and comparing them to data. Racquel Clarke of Rutgers Business School pitched Mango Way, a program to reduce obesity in low-income populations.

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