Judges line the front row of Pfizer Auditorium, pens and pads in hand, as one team of entrepreneurial hopefuls after another present their original ideas for the 6th Annual Inno/Vention Competition at Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly). This competition challenges the students of NYU and NYU-Poly to prototype and pitch commercially viable ideas for real world problems. The goal is to build a robust culture of competition that drives innovation through ideation and entrepreneurship. After nearly eight weeks of prototyping, coaching, and workshops, the 16 teams that were chosen during the end of the first stage, at the Power Pitch event are ready to present their prototypes and progress. Of the 16 only 8 will be chosen to move on in the competition.
So what exactly are the judges, a panel of investors, business executives, faculty and alumni looking for?
“Each stage has different criteria based on the progression of the venture and the workshops in that stage with the basic mindset always focusing on the technical feasibility and the commercial viability.” says Steven Kuyan, Assistant Director of Incubator Initiatives and an organizer for the event.
The innovations are separated into hardware and software. This year the ideas within those categories run the gamut, from a social media application for retaining volunteers for nonprofit organizations to an iron-rich blood filtration system and an armband designed to function as a computer mouse for amputees.
“[The range of projects] definitely represents the Poly student body,” says Derrick Hsiou, undergrad student studying technology management and event organizer. “We have a very diverse school and the students bring their backgrounds and interests into the competition.”
Despite its name, The Inno/Vention Competition is about far more than competing.
“These competitions get students to think outside of their engineering mindsets,” says Hsiou, “and gives them a more holistic view of what it takes to start a company.”
A concerted effort was made to make sure this event went above and beyond brainstorming and presenting business plans.
“The goal going into the competition wasn’t focused on giving students new ideas, enough of that happens on a daily basis in their class, we tailored the competition around giving students an opportunity to understand that having an idea was step 1,” says Kuyan who could be seen zipping up and down the aisles of the auditorium and assisting with technical difficulties during presentations. “Many if not all of the teams experienced the entrepreneurial rollercoaster, team members under delivered and had to be removed, potential customers and partnerships crumpled, and prototypes didn’t work during presentations. This experience though is the most important piece of the competition, whether the teams win or lose, the students will take away skills that will help them regardless of their career path and in that aspect they are all winners.”
Team Eden Works, which is composed of NYU-Poly students Jason Green, Gene Gurvich, Lajune McMillian and Matt LaRosa, embodies what this competition is truly about. Although they each bring a particular skill set to the table, their collaborative efforts have turned their idea for modular aquaponic farming systems (read: fertilization via fish tank waste) into a newly-licensed LLC. Eden Works is setting out to tackle the issue of limited access to affordable organic foods and has secured their first customer.
“For us, we have a real seriousness of purpose,” says Green, a civil engineering student.
“Competition or no competition, this is our company and we’re going to build it.”
Congratulations to Eden Works, Ex-Vivo Dynamics, Carfion, Ringing Finger, 6 Degrees, and Bot Factory who advanced in the hardware category, as well as, Hanabi and Social Effort who advanced in the software category.