Hofstra biz-plan contest ventures into new territory

Virtual victor: Criminology and global studies major Makayla Farrell captured top honors in the 2020 Hofstra-Digital Remedy Venture Challenge, which held its final round live on YouTube.
By GREGORY ZELLER //

The coronavirus couldn’t stop tradition at Hofstra University, where the regularly scheduled Hofstra-Digital Remedy Venture Challenge went off without a hitch, virtually.

Now in its eighth year, the business plan contest – which challenges Hofstra students to come up with new products or services and create business plans to commercialize them – held its final competition round April 24.

As per custom, the penultimate pitch-off pitted 10 finalists in a winners-take-all showdown before a live audience and panel of industry-expert judges, with tens of thousands of business-development dollars at stake.

Also as usual, the competition was staked by Hofstra alumnus and Board of Trustees member Mike Seiman, chairman and CEO of New York City digital media company Digital Remedy, and judged by an impressive slate of entrepreneurs and executives. This year’s judges included veteran entrepreneur and financier Bob Hussey, founder of circa-1990s direct-broadcast satellite pioneer POP Radio Corp.; three-time CEO and Hofstra entrepreneur-in-residence Kevin Hesselbirg; Empire State Development Corp. Long Island Director Cara Longworth; and Seimen himself.

Stacey Sikes: Impressive pivot.

And it goes without saying that Hofstra students stepped up huge, with dozens of quality entries whittled down to 10 finalists, representing an impressive cross-section of academic pursuits and innovative thinking – journalism, engineering, law and marketing students conjuring such novelties as dog bowls for long-eared breeds, an app that racks up cryptocurrency for podcast listeners, an “e-sports training center” and more.

The hook, of course, is that this year’s competition ran smack into the quasi-quarantines and loose lockdowns of the great 2020 pandemic.

But that was no problem for a contest born and raised on innovation. After the Venture Challenge’s annual competitor bootcamp was held in-person on March 6, things went digital, with more than 50 mentoring sessions and the March 27 semifinal round all held online.

Also online (live on YouTube, in fact) was the April 24 finale, which invited the judges – and an at-large audience – to tune in for virtual presentations by the 10 finalists.

The pivot actually reinforced the competition’s main themes, noted Hofstra University Executive Dean of Entrepreneurship and Business Development Stacey Sikes, who noted that every business-formation plan should expect the unexpected.

“This is a great learning experience for the students, to understand the challenges of starting a company during this unprecedented time,” Sikes told Innovate LI. “I commend them for working diligently on new innovations when there are so many other challenges right now.”

He shoots, he scores: Sophomore David Lazar captured third place with the niche sports-news platform Drive 4 Five.

Capturing first place – and a prize package of $42,000 in startup capital and business-development services – was Totally Tubular Tats, brainchild of criminology and global studies senior Makayla Farrell. Farrell’s winning idea: temporary tattoos that add a little imagination to feeding tubes, giving patients and loved ones a confidence boost.

Sophomore business student Desireé Abdelkader and her brainchild ABrand – wide-width shoes designed to resolve congenital foot conditions for underrepresented special-needs demographics – walked off with second place (and its $21,000 prize package), while sophomore journalism student David Lazar iced third place ($8,500 package) with Drive 4 Five, a template providing multimedia sports coverage to niche fanbases, starting with fans of the New York Islanders.

Including this year’s competition, Siemen – who launched NYC-based digital agency CPXi in 2001 and rechristened it later as Digital Remedy – has gifted some $600,000 in capital and in-kind services to Hofstra student entrepreneurs.