On April 25th, Aryeh Katz cleared his throat and announced to a buzzing Pfizer Auditorium that he was “a bit nervous.” And with good reason. Esteemed judges, instructors, friends, and family sat in seats awash in dramatically dimmed lighting waiting to be impressed. A husband and wife team, Aryeh and Miri Berger-Katz, make up 6 Degrees, one of the eight remaining teams to compete in Demo Day—the grand finale to the 6th Annual Inno/Vention Competition at Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly). Cash prizes of over $10,000 would be awarded to the top three entrants presenting the most commercially viable, technically feasible and thoroughly market-researched innovations.
Miri witnessed her professor, an amputee, using his functioning arm to criss-cross the keyboard as he used the components of his computer. She got the idea for a motion-sensing/transmitting armband that would help those with amputations or other upper-limb disabilities interact easily with electronic devices. With “creation stories” as varied as their individual backgrounds, Teams Carfion, EdenWorks, Bot Factory, Ringing Finger, Social Effort, ExVivo Dynamics and HuddleUp all found themselves in Pfizer Auditorium in very similar positions.
“The competition has evolved significantly from last year where you basically just had to present a good idea,” said Frank Rimalovski, DemoDay judge and managing director of the NYU Innovation Venture Fund. “This year, you had to actually build something and think about commercial viability. It forced the entrants to work much harder, think much harder, so we felt like they were all winners having made it this far.”
In the twelve-week program, Inno/Vention helped students to bring inklings of ideas to fruition in the form of hardware and software prototypes, and for some licensed companies. The process covered every aspect of what it means to be an innovator and entrepreneur from workshops and information sessions on ideas development, marketing, strategizing, to securing patents and, of course, the all-important pitch.
“Inno/Vention was very special for us. They trained us; they groomed us very well. Not only from a competition perspective but on a larger scale,” said Ashlesha Muley, one half of the winning hardware team ExVivo Dynamics. “They taught us everything from market research to distribution channels. Things we may not have had exposure to. They brought in experts and taught us how to present, what we should look out for, what investors look out for. It was very helpful to us. I’m very grateful to the Inno/Vention Competition for the platform they’ve given us. It has made us entrepreneurs from students.”
Ashlesha and her partner, Alan Perlstein, won the judges over with a non-invasive dual filtration system that removes excess iron from the blood.
The competition was tough. During the judges’ deliberation, a repetitive sentiment echoed across the room as the audience chattered in clusters. Steven Kuyan, Inno/Vention organizer and Assistant Director of Incubator Initiatives, summed the consensus up nicely.
“At this point they are no longer ideas, they are ventures and regardless of if teams win or lose, they’ll go on to be successful.”
Frank Rimalovski agreed. “It’s greatly inspiring…Even if they didn’t win, just going through the process will help them come up with new ideas in the future. They’ll know how rigorous your thinking has to be and how much time and effort to put into it. That said, all of them could actually be viable, commercial enterprises given enough time and effort.”
In that sense, everyone took something home.
Congratulations to the top three: Alan Perlstein and Ashlesha Muley of ExVivo Dynamics (hardware), Jason Lee of HuddleUP (software), and Nicolas Vansnick, Bharat Jain, and Carlos Ospina of Bot Factory (hardware).
InnoVention was sponsored by MakeSimply and Anthony Dalleggio '81, '82.