Bionic hand, big stare top Hofstra pitch challenge

Graduate student winner Todd Goldstein.

A 3D-printed bionic hand and a digital-age update on the classic “staring contest” were the big winners Thursday at the Hofstra University CPXi Venture Challenge.

The annual student business plan competition – sponsored by the university and Hofstra graduate Mike Seiman, founder and CEO of New York City-based digital media company CPXi – doled out $50,000 through a series of mini-competitions and Thursday’s final round, in which six graduate student-level finalists and 11 undergraduate-level finalists made pitches to a “Shark Tank”-like panel of judges.

CPXi actually ponied up a total of $100,000 for this year’s challenge, which will actually continue in the fall with another student business plan pitch-a-thon – this one open not only to Hofstra students but to entrepreneurs at other regional colleges and universities.

Look, a staring-contest mobile app presented by Lynn Luong and Anthony Avgi, walked off with the $15,000 first-place price in Thursday’s undergraduate finals. Beacon, a location-based app for building communities around common interests presented by Christopher Davie and Taylor Ninesling, took second ($10,000) and GearLocker, a GPS-enabled guitar-security device presented by Dylan Ander, took third ($5,000).

Look was a tough pick – there was “a lot of back and forth between the judges,” Seiman said – but ultimately carried the day on the strength of its team.

“We’ve seen all of the team members spend a lot of time in the [Hofstra Center for Entrepreneurship],” Seiman noted. “Part of being a great entrepreneur is building a great team, and the fact that we saw so many team members come together and share a vision told us this was a project we could back.”

Mano-Matic, an artificial hand featuring biometric fingers and a plethora of electronic sensors and motors presented by inventor Todd Goldstein, won the graduate competition and its $7,000 top prize. Graduate runners-up were Urban Jungle Green Roofing, an innovative engineering and installation company founded by Nicholas Wejchert, which took the $4,000 second-place award, and TobChat, a “connectivity media” alternative to social media focused on developing nations presented by Oluwatobi Kareem, which finished third ($1,000).

Goldstein’s bionic hand was, hands-down, the graduate level choice, according to Seiman.

“It was just amazing,” Seiman said. “It was tough not to just plug him into first place the second we heard about it.”

The winners were selected after making final-round five-minute multimedia presentations that included product or service synopses, market analyses, competitor breakdowns and cost and revenue projections. The five-minute pitches were each followed by three-minute cross-examinations by the judges.

Joining Seiman on the judge’s panel were Nasir Ali, CEO of Upstate Venture Connect and executive director of Seed Capital Fund of CNY, a private LLC focused on early-stage tech companies; software entrepreneur James Droskoski; Elizabeth Venuti, senior associate dean of Hofstra’s Frank G. Zarb School of Business; and Mike Zacharski, CPXi’s chief operating officer.

Non-winners on the undergraduate level included Aware Predictive Analytics, an online-sentiment aggregator presented by Samuel Fregley and Wahid Halid; Clear-Way, a device for people with respiratory and swallowing problems presented by Ron Kort; The CO Saver, a portable carbon monoxide detector for vehicles presented by Tamisha Lubin; and Easey, a time-management “productivity app” presented by Brittany Schreiber.

Also reaching the finals of the undergraduate competition were Virago, a female-friendly, safety-first, app-based car-service “campaign” presented by Bathsheva Paul and Linda Abukhalaf; Park-Mi, a parking-made simple camera-and-app service provider invented by Jacqueline Hsu, Thomas Georgiades and Stanley Shvartzberg; Pilot, a driver-friendly, windshield-projected heads-up display crafted by Matthew Collado; and TreasureBox, a porch-mounted chest for receiving package deliveries and protecting them from foul weather and “porch pirates,” presented by Alec Polsley and Connor Farrelly.

Runners up on the graduate level included a fresh-food vending machine pitched by Qi Liao and Lu Sun; Hypothetech, an online platform connecting biotech startups and investors, presented by Megan Woods; and P.S., a system that creates “digital representations” of the user to share with family and friends, conceived by Dominick Modica.

Between the graduate and undergraduate levels, the 2016 Venture Challenge attracted 57 total student teams or solo acts, more than double the number of competitors in the 2015 competition.

Whereas previous versions of the competition included bigger prizes – a $50,000 grand prize was awarded to 2015 champion The Lift Stick, a device that alerts the wearer to potentially damaging posture – the 2016 slate included a series of smaller, undergrad-focused business-pitch competitions in February, each offering $1,000 in prizes.

Altogether, “It really generated a lot of interest on campus,” said Mark Lesko, the executive dean of Hofstra’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which organized the annual competition. “And the most important thing is, the companies are superb. I would match them up with any entrepreneur on Long Island.”

CPXi founder Seiman noted that the student innovators who walked away from the competition empty-handed have nothing to hang their heads over – and in fact have learned one of the great lessons of entrepreneurship.

“It’s all about making your fist pitch,” Seiman told the competitors and the audience inside the Hofstra Northwell School of Medicine auditorium. “Nobody makes money their first time out. Likely not their second or third time.

“It’s those entrepreneurs who pick themselves up, change things up, keep getting out there and keep trying,” Seiman added. “That’s who succeeds.”

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