Something ventured, lots to gain in Hofstra ‘Challenge’

Challenging: Pitchers and judges mix it up at the 2016 CPXi Challenge (renamed the Hofstra-Digital Remedy Venture Challenge for 2017).
By GREGORY ZELLER //

It’s a new name but the same entrepreneurial spirit, as Hofstra University hurtles toward the final round of its latest Venture Challenge.

Now dubbed the Hofstra-Digital Remedy Venture Challenge Series, the annual student business-plan competition comes to a head April 18, with 10 teams vying for $40,000 in prizes, including a $20,000 top prize.

The competition is the brainchild of Hofstra alum Mike Seiman, founder and CEO of New York City-based digital media company CPXi, which reformed this year as Digital Remedy. Seiman is slated to serve as one of the judges at the April 18 finale, along with Jeff Leventhal, CEO of Huntington-based tech consultancy Work Rails; Mukesh Patel, founder of New Jersey co-working space JuiceTank; Hofstra grad Josh Sason, founder of New York City investment firm Magna; former Northwell Health COO Charles Trunz; and Janet Lenaghan, vice dean of Hofstra’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business.

The esteemed panel will rate pitches by 10 competitor teams, representing a mix of Hofstra undergraduate and graduate students. In previous years, the then-CPXi Challenge split competitors into graduate and undergraduate levels, but organizers decided this year to mix it up, according to Mark Lesko, executive dean of the Hofstra University Center for Entrepreneurship.

“We didn’t see much different between the two categories,” Lesko told Innovate LI. “And combining them into one really generated a lot more interest on campus.”

All told, some 86 teams answered the call for submissions, Lesko noted, mostly undergrads, basically reflecting the makeup of the Hofstra student body. All applicants were invited to attend a daylong “boot camp” held March 10 at the university’s ideaHUb collaborative workspace, working in topical workshops and speed-mentoring rounds with Hofstra’s six Entrepreneurs-in-Residence.

“Every team got to spend time with an Entrepreneur-in-Residence, who evaluated their ideas and presentations,” Lesko noted. “Combined, the workshops touched on every aspect of a pitch. It was very well received. The room was buzzing.”

The boot camp also served to begin whittling down those nearly 90 applicants, primarily by convincing some dreamers to go back to the drawing board with ideas that still needed seasoning. By the competition’s March 16 semifinal round, it was down to 35 teams, and Lesko and other university-based judges selected the 10 finalists for the April 18 showdown.

Mark Lesko: Good thinking.

The 2017 finalists include Farhanna Zainul, creator of the Bling Box, a monthly jewelry subscription box; Henry Crayton, Rory Murphy and Lerthon Theuma, pitching CountryBox, an e-commerce site designed to bring “care packages” from the old country to international expats; Ariel Dure and Stacie Camirand, proposing Dr. Multi-Tech, a student-run smartphone- and tablet-repair service targeting college students; and Michelle Romeo and Kristopher Wagner, the brains behind Energym, a system designed to convert bicycle-generated energy into electrical power.

Also taking the stage: Carrisa Anderson, pitching Flare, a booking, scheduling and payment mobile app; Louis DeVito, Jacob Hochendoner and Adam Hussain, the team behind LegalSoft Inc., a startup developing cloud-based software for elder-law attorneys; Sony Abraham, presenting MyEngineer, a digital patient-management system for hospitals; and David Harupa Jr., Eric Monsurez and Ian Fade, creators of Retail Quest, a gamified instant-awards system for retail employees.

Rounding out the finalists are Brandi Kinard, pitching Relief, an omni-channel public health system designed to help users find clean, safe public restrooms in cities around the country, and the team of Christopher Davies, Amy Topka and Zach Vampola, with an idea tailored perfectly to the “fake news” era: TellMe, a digital service that will automatically distinguish between fact and opinion.

In addition to the top prize of $20,000, the competitors will gun for chunky second-place ($12,500) and third-place prizes ($7,500). The $40,000 purse doesn’t quite match up to previous years’ totals (the first CPXi Challenge doled out a cool $100,000), but it’s still “a lot of prize money,” Lesko noted.

“We reduced it this year because of the transition at [Digital Remedy],” he said. “We fully expect it to go back to $100,000 next year.”

But $40,000 ain’t nothing, Lesko added, and that handsome $20,000 grand prize is a worthy award for some of Hofstra’s most ambitious young thinkers.

“We’ve seen an increase not only in the number of applicants, but in the quality of their ideas,” the Center for Entrepreneurship exec said. “Frankly, a lot of that is due to the support they’ve gotten from the center and from our wonderful Entrepreneurs-in-Residence.

“We’re really seeing the fruits of that labor.”

The Hofstra-Digital Remedy Venture Challenge Series final is scheduled to run from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. April 18 at the Lawrence Herbert School of Communication. Admission to the final round is free, but pre-registration is required.

Whoever walks away with the cash, the high number of applicants and the quality of their ideas speaks well for Hofstra’s entrepreneurial spirit, according to Lesko.

“We are seeing a lot of ideas generated out of our growing Computer Science Department and the School of Engineering in particular,” the executive dean noted. “There are some really excellent ideas coming out of there.”


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