Virtual NJIT New Business Model Competition Highlights Budding Entrepreneurs

NJIT held its New Business Model Competition online in December. Community members and students gave compelling pitches despite the lack of an in-person audience. Finalists from area colleges and the community presented.

NJIT has been holding this competition for 12 years. This year, the winners submitted their practical innovative ideas for review by a panel of judges and a chance to win a $2,500 fellowship that includes participation in NJIT’s Lean Startup Summer Accelerator, where they’ll have the opportunity to develop their startup ideas.  The $2,500 fellowships were sponsored by Synchrony Bank.

The online competition was put together by the team from =SPACE, a Newark coworking venue that has pivoted its business during the pandemic to helping companies and organizations put on virtual events. It was hosted by Michael Ehrlich, director of the New Jersey Innovation Acceleration Center.

The first-place winner in the local student competition was Yashwee Kothari, of ReLeaf, whose startup offers an app to track traumatic brain injury patients between visits with the doctor to catch potential problems.

Second place on the student track went to Nicholas Marinelli, who is developing the Extra Time Training App, an app to better train soccer athletes.

The winner of the community track was Michael Steadman, CEO of IRONBOUND Media (Newark), a podcast production company that creates, distributes and grows limited-series educational podcasts.

Second place on this track was Francis Koroma, founder and CEO of FranTech3D, which builds 3D-printed water tanks.

Think Like A Boss

The participants were treated to a talk by Alexandra Bernard-Simmons, the founder and CEO of Think Like a Boss, a New York-based organization that offers business training and consulting to women.  She congratulated the group for being able to think creatively during a time of chaos.

Simmons gave the budding entrepreneurs a few important pieces of advice, including:

  • Don’t discount your crazy ideas. “We need you to foster them. We need you to bring them to light.”
  • Learn about everything. “You never know when there will be intersecting points with your business.”
  • Understand your skill sets and bring them to the forefront.
  • Always look to the future of innovation. Blockbuster was standing still and thought their business model would work forever.

Here is a recap of the finalists’ projects:

Yashwee Kothari of ReLeaf

Yashwee Kothari presents ReLeaf. | Screenshot by Esther Surden

ReLeaf is an app that helps traumatic-brain-injury patients track their symptoms. According to Kothari, who’s from NJIT, “Every year 2.8 million Americans sustain a traumatic brain injury; 41 percent of those moderately to severely injured patients do not get a follow-up visit within three months, and only 2 percent of the physician’s time actually goes to communicating with their patients. So, what does this mean? This means that patients are not getting the proper care that they need.”

Kothari noted that she has tested her fledgling app with 11 patients to better understand if patients were willing to do the weekly check-ins. They were, and at the end of every week she completed some analytics on the patients and sent them each a report, which was well-received.

Nicolas Marinelli of Extra Time Training

Nicholas Marinelli presents Extra Time Training | Screenshot by Esther Surden

Extra Time Training, presented by Nicolas Marinelli, is a soccer training app for players, coaches and parents to help soccer players excel. “Players will be able to download an app and access their training performance on a cutting-edge platform that accurately displays information needed for success.” The app will “implement AI technology, machine learning algorithms and computer vision technology to provide athletes with tactical fundamental and performance-based analysis,” Marinelli, who is from Seton Hall University, told the judges.

Michael Steadman of IRONBOUND Media

Michael Steadman of Ironbound Media | Screenshot by Esther Surden

Michael Steadman is a serial entrepreneur well-known in the Newark community for his nonprofit company IRONBOUND Boxing. Now Steadman is starting a podcasting company called “IRONBOUND Media.”

“We’re a podcast production company that creates distributes and grows limited-series educational podcasts. … We believe that the future of education is audio, and right now is a prime opportunity to take advantage of it,” he said.

Big brands such as Audible are taking advantage of the popularity of voice, and are creating niche educational content through their Audible original series, in addition to the great courses that they also offer, he said. “At IRONBOUND Media, we bring that same capability to our clients, essentially allowing them to create niche educational content and almost have a mini-podcast network.” IRONBOUND Media is targeting entrepreneurs in incubators and accelerators in New Jersey.

Francis Koroma of FranTech3D

Francis Koroma of FranTech3D | Screenshot by Esther Surden

Koroma pitched an idea for reliable and affordable 3D-printed water tanks that will address a complex problem in Africa, the scarcity of water in communities, by using a simple solution. The concrete water tanks are printed using existing 3D-printing technology, and the printing machine can be easily transported from one place to another to get the job done, Koroma said.

These tanks hold more water than tanks made of plastic, and they can be printed in less than 48 hours, whereas other technologies take at least a month. The tanks are also cheaper and last longer than the available competition, he noted. The company is very young, and Koroma said that he would be interning with a company in the United States that builds homes in 48 hours, so he can apply its techniques to water tanks in Africa.

Customers for the tanks include governments, nongovernment organizations and communities, he said.

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