A Student Entrepreneur in Paradise

10/21/08

On Saturday, I attended the 2nd annual Elevator Pitch Competition (EPC) at MIT—the first leg of the year-long MIT $100K Business Plan Competition. The EPC is all about generating ideas, and over the action-packed day, culminating in an amazing, Rocky-themed finale in the evening, I had the opportunity to hear a lot of them.

The contest was organized in several tracks: Biotech, Development, Energy, Mobile, Products/Services and Web/IT. It works like this: contestants pitch a business idea in less than 60 seconds (the length of a hypothetical elevator ride with a hypothetical potential investor) in front of the audience and a panel of judges. After the pitch, there’s a 3-minute Q&A period in which contestants can clarify the business idea and receive feedback.

Saturday’s winner took home more than $5,000 (not too bad for a 60-second delivery). When I competed last year I took home some great experience, but no cash.

This year there were more 150 entries from a number of different universities (MIT, Harvard, Dartmouth, etc.). The event was a success, with a fully packed and energetic auditorium at MIT Stata Center during the final round. The quality of the pitches was excellent considering how early in the year it is, and most important, most people were able to keep it to 60 seconds! Among the judges there were several venture capitalists and entrepreneurs who were mainly weighing the quality of the pitch, the market opportunity, and the product/solution. Jean Hammond, angel investor and judge mentioned “I thought it was particularly interesting that two presentations were focused on how to bring extra features to folks like the elderly, and also on how to enhance new technologies in the Third World environments.”

Here are some of the great ideas that made it into the final:

—Yinan Du pitched a Chinese marketplace for fans and celebrities, where fans bid to converse with celebrities (using video-chat technology). 80 percent of the final price is donated to a charity selected by the celebrity.

—Philip Shaltis pitched a continuous blood pressure monitor for diagnosis of high blood pressure. Current diagnostic methods are based on a single measurement under doctor supervision. However, single measurements might not be representative of the patient’s normal state. Shaltis proposed a device worn on the wrist that collects this information continuously so the patient’s medication is based on what he really needs.

—Hayden Taylor pitched a software solution to reduce the costs of the design process of semiconductor microfabrication.

—Anoop Rao pitched a 10 cent sensor that reports health conditions of people in African towns, who live far away from medical centers. The sensor can be attached to a prepaid postcard, so medical centers can remotely identify problems.

—Paul Suthapong pitched a nanomaterial technology that recycles plastic into a nano-film that improves energy efficiency of windows (e.g., for homes or cars).

The winner of the competition was Riccardo Signorelli, a fifth year PhD student at MIT, who pitched a new energy-storage technology which improves the energy density up to 5 times compared to existing ultracapacitors. By providing 10 times more power than batteries, the technology also improves charge and discharge ability. Riccardo believes that this can be applied to wind and solar farms to improve quality output by preventing voltage and frequency fluctuation to the grid. This is a $20 billion market and if he can build a great team around the technology he pitched, I am sure he will be successful. The pitch was very well delivered, so it is no wonder why he also got the $500 audience award—using the Poll Everywhere real-time SMS polling product—with 70 percent of the votes of the audience!

For a wannabe entrepreneur like me it was an excellent place to meet and network with over 300 people interested in starting new ventures who attended the event. During the breaks and dinner time it was very easy to chat and meet other potential entrepreneurs willing to find teams and ideas to start companies; or people just seeking feedback for their initial business idea. I met plenty of interesting people and exchanged many business cards.

One of the most interesting things to observe was how people become interested in entrepreneurship simply by attending an event like this and feeling the energy from all of the other entrepreneurs.

Do you want in on the action? The next business idea competition is the MIT $100K Executive Summary Contest (last year I won this one), with a submission deadline on the 4th of December. Check out http://www.mit100k.org for more details!

Inaki Berenguer is currently completing his MBA at MIT Sloan fully sponsored by the Rafael del Pino Foundation. Follow @

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  • Peter Hunkeler

    How can I get more info. regarding Ricardo Signarelli’s pitch on a new energy storage technology? Thanks, Peter

  • Brian

    a recorded webcast of the finale, including Riccardo’s pitch on new energy storage, can be found on the 100K’s website: http://mit100k.org/