Hofstra revamps its student pitch program

Student winners with CPXi founder Mike Seiman and Hofstra President Stuart Rabinowitz.

The CPXi Challenge has returned to Hofstra University – slightly tweaked, in hopes of involving and inspiring a greater number of innovative thinkers.

Hofstra graduate and trustee Mike Seiman, founder and CEO of New York City-based digital media company CPXi, has once again ponied up $100,000 in prize money for the annual challenge. But this year, instead of one contest with a $50,000 grand prize and chunky five-digit runner-up awards, the challenge will be broken into a series of smaller business-plan contests.

The prizes will also be smaller, noted Mark Lesko, executive dean of Hofstra’s Center for Entrepreneurship, which is administrating the 2016 CPXi Challenge. But with more contests focusing on specific student populations, participation in the annual competition should skyrocket.

“We decided that instead of doing one big $100,000 competition just for undergrads, we’d actually do a bunch,” Lesko told Innovate LI, including eight different competitions ranging from smaller Shark Tank-style pitch competitions to larger undergraduate and graduate-school competitions.

In each of the mini-contests, the idea is the same: to help Hofstra students transform innovative ideas into working businesses. The 2016 slate kicks off with a series of small, undergrad-focused business-pitch competitions in February, each offering $1,000 in prizes ($500 for first place, $300 for second, $200 for third).

Similar events targeting different student levels will be held throughout the year, all leading up to what Lesko termed “the larger competition,” the one-day, $50,000 Venture Challenge in April 2016 featuring winners of the earlier contests.

This past April, Hofstra students Nick Calderon and Kevin McCroary won the $50,000 top prize in the 2015 CPXi Venture Challenge with The Lift Stick, a device that alerts the wearer to improper posture that could lead to back injuries. The two said they would use the prize to step up manufacturing and sales for their device, which was already commercially available.

Runner-up 2015 prizes of $20,000 went to students Christopher Davie and Jacqueline Hsu for Quik, an Uber-like delivery service based on a novel software platform, and student Matthew Pieri for Pholder, a folding selfie stick that allows users to check emails, chat on Skype or watch videos on their smartphones, all hands-free.

A $10,000 third prize went to students Alex Grimaldi, David Guralnick, Andrew Marks and Kelsey Mester for their company, Prometheus Initiative, which is gunning for an electromagnetic heat-driven generator constructed entirely from recycled components.

While the 2016 grand finale’s big prize is only half of the jackpot offered in previous CPXi Challenges – 2016 marks the event’s fourth year – spreading Seiman’s “generous donation” over a number of smaller contests was the best way to grow the challenge and promote the entrepreneurial spirit that defines the CPXi Challenge in the first place, according to Lesko.

“We’re trying to use the prize money to generate buzz on campus,” he said. “This will also give us an opportunity to provide support and oversight to a greater number of participating students. They’ll all have access to the mentorship and workshops that goes hand-in-hand with what the Center for Entrepreneurship is trying to accomplish.”

Seiman said he was “thrilled to once again be partnering with Hofstra to discover and develop tomorrow’s brightest entrepreneurs,” and completely supported the idea of doling out the prize money over several smaller contests.

“I think it gets a lot more people involved,” he told Innovate LI. “It spreads the investment out over a larger number of students, giving more of them a chance to get involved.”

CPXi, which the entrepreneur launched in 2000 while still studying at Hofstra, is a digital media holding company that generates billions of ad impressions in 65 countries daily.

“The ability to give back to the community that played such a large role in my success is immensely gratifying,” Seiman noted.

Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz called the revamped CPXi Challenge “an extraordinary opportunity for our students to get real-world experience about how to take an idea from the classroom to the boardroom.”

“This initiative, led by Hofstra’s Center for Entrepreneurship, will help make the university a magnet for the region’s young entrepreneurs,” Rabinowitz said in a statement. “It’s especially gratifying that this competition comes from one of our own graduates, whose vision and generosity is inspiring to a new generation of Hofstra innovators.”

Applications for the slate of 2016 CPXi Challenge contests are due by Feb. 1. Applications, rules and more information are all available at www.hofstra.edu/cpxichallenge.

While the annual competition has been re-tasked, it has not been repurposed, according to Lesko: The goal remains the unabashed promotion and support of the university’s entrepreneurial spirit.

“The idea is to open it to more people on more levels,” the executive dean said. “And the hope is that even if they don’t win, everyone who participates will conceivably be in a better position to actually start a company.

“Like a good business, the competition has evolved,” Lesko added. “It’s been successful to this point, and now the competition has taken this interesting next step.”