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Walla Scores Grand Prize at 17th Annual Start-Up Challenge

Published: 7 months ago | 0 comments

By Devin Nieusma

From Duke Research Blog

The finalists of Duke’s 17th Annual Start-Up Challenge have found time between classes, homework and West Union runs to research and develop pitches aiming to solve real-world problems with entrepreneurship.

The event, hosted last week at the Fuqua School of Business, featured a Trinity alum as the keynote speaker. Beating out the other seven start-up pitches for the $50,000 grand prize was Walla, an app founded by Judy Zhu, a Pratt senior.

Walla aims to create a social health platform for college students by addressing widespread loneliness and creating a more inclusive campus community. The app’s users post open invitations to activities, from study groups to pick-up sports, allowing students to connect over shared interests.

Walla is closely tied with Duke Medicine and provides data from user activity to medical researchers. User engagement is analyzed to supply valuable information on mental health in young adults to professionals. The app currently features 700 monthly active users, with 3,000 anticipated within the next month. User numbers are expected to continue to grow as the app becomes available in other college campuses across the state.

Tatiana Birgisson, who won the Start-Up Challenge in 2013, returned to Duke to talk about her own experiences creating a business as an undergraduate. Birgisson’s venture, MATI energy drink, was born out of her Central Campus dorm room and, through the support of Duke I&E resources, became the major energy drink contender it is today as a healthy alternative to Monster or Red Bull. The $2,500 Audience Choice award went to Ebb, an app designed to empower women on their periods by keeping them informed of physical and emotional symptoms throughout the course of their cycles, and creating a community through which menstruating women can receive support from those they choose to share information with.

Other finalists included BioMetrix, a wearable platform for injury prevention; GoGlam, an application to connect working women with beauticians in Latin America; Grow With Nigeria, which provides engaging STEM experiences for students in Nigeria; MedServe; Tiba Health; and Teraphic. This year’s Start-Up Challenge was a major success, with student entrepreneurs coming together to share their projects that aim to change the world. Be sure to come out next year; I’ll post an invite on Walla!

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