Startup software company wins Smeal's entrepreneurship competition

University Park, Pa. – A startup business founded by a doctoral student in Penn State's Eberly College of Science won first place and $2,000 in the second annual IdeaPitch competition hosted by the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the Smeal College of Business.

Five finalist teams presented their ideas to a team of six judges on the University Park campus on April 30. The teams were selected in the first round from 40 original concepts that were posted on the IdeaPitch Web site. The teams competed for $3,500 in prizes sponsored by the Ben Franklin Technology Partnership; Ratner and Prestia, a Philadelphia-based patent law firm; and the Farrell Center.

"The judges were unanimously impressed by the quality of the ideas, the presentation materials, and the ability of the teams to respond under pressure to questions posed by the judges," said Anthony Warren, executive director of the Farrell Center. "In addition, the competition demonstrated that entrepreneurship is alive and well across Penn State, and that students understand the value of forming diverse teams from different colleges and campuses."

After some tough discussions, the judges decided to award first place to Watermelon Express, led by Ujjwal Gupta, an Eberly College doctoral candidate, who teamed up with Ashish Rangnekar from Capital One. Their company is developing cross-platform software to enable students anywhere to train for all of the standardized college-entry tests on electronic devices, both portable and desktop. The company adds the value of social networking to benefit both students and tutors. The company's first service, offered on the iPhone, has already generated close to $50,000 in sales.

The two runner-up prizes of $750 each went to the Ephysciency team from Penn State Hershey Medical Center and AM Analytics, led by Smeal student Alex Mann. Ephysciency is developing an information exchange and networking portal to efficiently tie doctors to suppliers of devices and pharmaceuticals, saving enormous costs for the suppliers and valuable time for the doctors. AM Analytics mines data from all of the social networking sites to identity trends in opinions and possibly damaging rumors for major corporations.

The remaining two finalist teams were given honorable mentions for their work:  LiftAssist, a team formed by students from Smeal and the College of Engineering, is developing a wireless linked sensor aid to prevent back injuries as a result of incorrectly lifting heavy loads. GameGuru, led by two Smeal students, captures the skills of the best online game players and provides training videos to wannabe expert contestants.

"All of the teams were impressive, and I was struck by the diversity of the ideas," said Chris Rothe, one of the judges from Ratner and Prestia. "And I learned a lot, too, from the presentations."

According to Gupta, the leader of first-place WaterMelon Express, "These types of competitions are extremely valuable for startups because you not only have to organize your thoughts to make a solid business plan, but additionally you get feedback from the judges and the mentors, who will also help you out later."

The IdeaPitch competition is run every year and is open to any student currently enrolled at Penn State. It allows budding entrepreneurs to form their teams across Penn State via a social networking portal and provides them with the tools, skills, and resources necessary to successfully pitch their ideas to investors, while providing exposure to potential backers.

More details are available online at www.ideapitch.smeal.psu.edu.

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Last Updated May 12, 2009