Engineering Entrepreneurs Shine at Columbia Venture Competition

Some of Columbia’s most exciting startups competed for seed capital at the Columbia Venture Competition, held April 23 on the Morningside campus. The annual event brought together student, post-doc, and alumni entrepreneurs from Columbia Engineering, Columbia College, the School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), and other University schools, as part of the University-wide entrepreneurship competition that offered a prize pool of $250,000.

Click on the image to see photos of the Global Challenge and Technology Challenge winners. slideshow

This year’s event marked the first time that topic-related categories (or tracks) were offered. SEAS sponsored two tracks: the Technology Challenge and the Global Challenge. Both categories focused on teams that were tech-driven, with those competing in the global challenge more geared at problems such as environmental challenges, health, sustainability, and disaster relief.

Dean Mary C. Boyce announced the winners of the two Engineering-sponsored challenges during Columbia University’s second annual entrepreneurship festival, #Startup Columbia Festival, held at Barnard College the following day.

In the Technology Challenge, Neovel Technologies, which is developing graphene-based wearable screens that can be bent and stretched, took first place and $25,000 in funding for Adam Hurst, a mechanical engineering PhD student, and Nicholas Petrone PhD’14MechE. Second and third place in the Technology Challenge went to biomedical engineering graduate students Ninna Rossen, Wenjie Luo, and Jennifer Goldenberg for their startup, Inject-a-Flow, and to computer science graduate student Chris Cleveland for Pixm, respectively. Inject-a-Flow, an early stage startup, is developing a new therapy to prevent amputations in patients with severe vascular disease. Pixm, also an early stage startup, is aiming to make the best password protection product on the market, specifically designed to protect Internet users in organizations from password theft and phishing.

First place in the Global Challenge went to Hyliion, an innovative suspension system for freight trucks to reduce fuel consumption developed by SEAS alumnus Mario Avila BS’10MechE and partner Thomas Healy. Avila and Healy developed Energi Trailer, an add-on suspension system for freight trucks that applies hybrid technology to reduce fuel consumption by up to 31 percent. Their revolutionary system uses electric energy to capture power when the vehicle is slowing down and reuses it to accelerate.

Second place in the Global Challenge track went to Matri-Tek, founded by biomedical engineering MS student John O’Neill, for technology behind tissue-specific cell culture scaffolding for growing biomaterials in tailored environments. In third place was Neopenda from cofounders Teresa Cauvel, Rebecca Peyser, and Sona Shah, all MS biomedical engineering students, for their low-cost, low-power, and low-maintenance method for monitoring babies’ vital signs in the developing world with simple hats.

Columbia Engineering students also placed in the top three winners for two other tracks in the University competition: Startup Columbia Challenge and the Undergraduate Challenge. In the Undergraduate Challenge, biomedical engineering juniors Elizabeth Dente and Andrea Ortuno won second place for Helioderm, their patent-pending, low-cost topical wound treatment, and Jason Kang, also a biomedical engineering junior, placed third for his startup Kinnos, which he cofounded with Columbia College juniors Katherine Jin and Kevin Tyan. Kinnos recently won USAID funding for their product, Highlight, a powdered additive for bleach solutions that improves decontamination of infectious diseases. In the Startup Columbia Challenge, SEAS alumnus Michael Wojcieszek BS’10, MS’14 won third place for his company, Pyrus.

The first-place winners in the Technology Challenge, Neovel, typified the excitement of all the winners. They said they feel “incredibly fortunate” to have received this award and the “tremendous support” from Columbia—from the office space they have been given at Columbia Startup Lab, to mentorship from the Columbia venture community, and to seed funding through a SEAS cFund Ignition Grant. Hurst and Petrone are now in the process of building a prototype—a fully functional stretchable display.

“Participating in the Columbia Venture Competition has been a phenomenal experience. It's been inspiring to see so many great ideas being generated by our peers at Columbia,” said Hurst. “This award will play a pivotal role in helping us pursue our idea and create a transformative technology.”

Cultivating and promoting entrepreneurship is central to Columbia Engineering’s mission. Over the academic year, the School sponsors multiple programs dedicated to its thriving community of innovators, including mentorship programs, entrepreneurship networking nights, and Columbia Engineering Fast Pitch Competition.

—by Melanie A. Farmer

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