By Peter Shi T’16 Duke I&E culminated Entrepreneurship Week with its 15th Annual Start-Up Challenge, a yearlong entrepreneurship competition with an entry pool of over 100 Duke student teams. After elimination rounds that took place from last November to this April, six finalist teams delivered their final pitches to a panel of judges for the $50,000 Grand Prize. In his keynote address to a packed auditorium, Transcriptic founder Max Hodak E’12 said that innovation, at its heart, is about the art of seizing nonexistent possibilities. From designing a new car to launching a new airline, entrepreneurship is about planning for millions of possible scenarios and preparing for the challenges that are attached with each one of them. Indeed, we are all born innovative– if we had room to explore possibilities and no preconceived notions about the rigid rules that govern our world. Through innovation, we can tap into our natural talent and return to a time and place of infinite possibility. After introductions, the contestants each gave a six minute pitch, followed by a three minute question and answer session from a panel of judges, who later decided the winner of the $50,000 Grand Prize. The audience also selected the $2,500 Audience’s Choice prize, and a third prize – the James B. Duke and Founders’ Societies Award of $2,500. Let’s Be Well Red, founded by Duke Medical student Rajvi Mehta in 2011, swept the board, winning all three prizes and a standing ovation from the crowd. The non-profit began through a summer project that involved Ms. Mehta testing and treating over 5,000 anemia patients in the slums of Mumbai. While in Mumbai, she learned that anemia caused by iron deficiency affects 80% of India, which is an astounding 900 million people, and a factor in over 65% of maternal and fetal deaths in the country. Let’s Be Well Read aims to address this issue by providing Gudness bars – nutritional bars with a day’s worth of iron – to every anemic person in India. According to census data, there are currently more people in India living under a dollar a day than there are people in the US. And as Mehta noted in her speech, it’s important to face such sobering realities while treating her patients, both in the US and in India. The other competitors are listed below:
- 501Carbon – 501Carbon is a 501c3 organization that aims to connect large companies operating in developing countries with opportunities to address energy poverty and climate change. Current projects include the installation of biogas adjusters and stoves, solar links, diesel generators, and biomass stoves that run 24/7 in Pakistan and Uganda. They are currently reaching out to Nike, Walmart and other large corporations.
- Crowdtunes – In an endeavor to enter the $500 million jukebox market, Crowdtunes is a mobile app that offers crowd-powered jukebox, where customers can engage in a bid for their favorite music (for example Ozzy Osbourne vs. Taylor Swift) in local venues such as restaurants, bars and at sporting events. Boasting a 90% conversion rate and Duke Football as one of their customers, Crowdtunes hopes to eventually enter the larger $1.2 billion music market.
- Med3D – Early breast cancer detection and prevention is a critical way to lower the overall breast cancer rate. Med3D is developing 3D models of breasts to increase the detection rate and lower the callback rate among breast cancer patients, hoping to supplement the static 2D mammography and 3D tormosyn imaging methods currently in use. They hope to expand to models of other body parts as well.
- Rangeland Solutions – Founder Tayloy Tully skyped in to the Start-Up Challenge Grand Finale Event from Kenya! Rangeland Solutions trains African pastoralists livestock management in order to improve their livelihoods and their environment. They hope to provide sustainable income- generating opportunities through decreasing overgrazing and erosion, thereby improving land usage and increasing beef production.
- Towel Burner – Towels and Advertisements – two words that are not often seen together, which is something that Towel Burner soon hopes to change. With the largest gym association and 125,000 members already signed on board, Towel Burner hopes to provide free towels sponsored through advertisements that are printed on the towels to gym members. They are currently negotiating deals with the Air Force and the YMCA, among other gyms.