After months of competition, the CUNY Institute for Virtual Enterprise (IVE) and the Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship hosted the finale of the 12th Annual CUNY IVE SmartPitch Challenge on June 5 at CUNY Central. The top 12 student entrepreneurial teams from NYC colleges made their presentations and the winner was Aditya Kumarakrishnan, a Physics and Math major at Queens College.
Aditya, from Flushing, Queens, was awarded the grand prize of $10,000 to assist him with launching his idea for Tesla Truck, a mobile STEM/hands-on lab and mobile maker space that will bring courses like robot-building, flight design, 3D printing and vocational training to schools and the local community.
"We put a lot of work into this, and we feel really passionate about our idea. I think that’s what shined through in our presentation," said Aditya about his team's win.
He said he’s excited that the $10,000 will be enough for him to buy his first truck. Aditya first thought of the idea for the business a year ago when he mentored a robotics team in a Bronx classroom and realized the kids had no resources. He brought the tools himself and thought a mobile maker space would be useful and cost efficient for other city schools, which did not offer traditional shop classes.
The Verizon Foundation, the competition's lead partner, provided a $60,000 grant to support this year's SmartPitch Challenge, including $25,000 in prizes for the top five teams. Since the competition started in January, more than 200 teams from NYC colleges signed up to compete, the most in the competition's 12 year history. Verizon offered mentors to provide infrastructure, marketing, and general business management support.
The Top 5 Winners Are:
1st Place: (awarded $10,000)
Tesla Truck, (Aditya Kumarakrishnan, Queens College): A mobile STEM / hands-on lab and mobile maker-space that will bring courses like robot-building, flight design, 3D printing and vocational training to schools and the local community.
2nd Place (awarded $7,500)
I Love Free Concerts (Matthew Diaz, Lehman College):A curated calendar website and email newsletter platform offering free live music event listings, serving one quarter of a million consumers in New York City and the greater area.
3rd Place: (awarded $5,000)
Advise Me (Marcus Cooper, Baruch College): A mobile app that produces class schedules and makes course recommendations utilizing user-submitted academic goals and scheduling preferences.
The Most Innovative App (awarded $1,500)
Den (Jennifer Bender, Marleigh Blake, and Burhan Arshad, Baruch College): a GPS-enabled application and website where users can find “Dens” throughout the city - quiet, indoor private places to have a phone conversation, check email or use a clean bathroom.
Fan Favorite (awarded $1,000)
Gettsit (Helen Getts and Vladislav Smolyanskyy, Baruch College): a social-media oriented fashion marketing company targeting independent women.
"There were a lot of good choices and good ideas," said John Martin, Executive Director at Verizon’s IT Strategy and Planning Organization and one of the judges. "Tesla Truck was interesting because it brings something educational to the next generation. We also thought Aditya had a well thought out budget and answered our questions well."
"I thought the majority of the ideas were unique and solved a real problem," said fellow judge Dana Ostomel, Founder and Chief Gifting Officer of Deposit a Gift.com. "In the end, it’s going to be about execution and who has what it takes to launch."
Other judges who served on the panel included: Eric Apse, Partner of IBM Venture Capital Group; Muhammad Arshad, Chairperson of University Student Senate; Monica Dean, Administrative Director of the Lawrence N. Field Programs in Entrepreneurship and adjunct lecturer at Baruch College; Mary Anne Holley, Entrepreneurship Lecturer at Baruch College; and Ivy Li, Consultant at Tusk Strategies.
Stuart Schulman, Director of the CUNY Institute for Virtual Enterprise, announced the creation of a new incubator space that will launch this summer at CUNY’s School of Professional Studies. This facility will provide resources to help the students launch their business ventures. All 12 finalists as well as the Most Innovative App "Den," Fan Favorite "Gettsit" and select teams Rumr.co, Pomegranate Lab, RaceSnaps, will participate in an Entrepreneurship Boot Camp June 26-27. They will receive high-level mentorship, summer stipends, a Demo Day, and ongoing support from CUNY IVE and the Field Center for Entrepreneurship, Schulman said.
"Having been involved for many years, I can attest that the caliber of the projects improve every year," adds Administrative Director of the Field Center for Entrepreneurship Monica Dean. "I was pleased to see the diversity of the projects as well as a good representation of CUNY schools and male and female participants. I am honored to participate in a competition that provides a platform for New York City's future entrepreneurial leaders."
For more information about the SmartPitch Challenge, visit smartpitch.org.