Teams competing in PennVention aren’t just looking for the prize money.
PennVention, run by the Weiss Tech House, is the premier tech innovation competition at Penn. Regardless of whether participants win the contest, PennVention aims to give student entrepreneurs the motivation and resources they need to turn their ideas into a real product or service.
“A lot of people get stuck at the idea stage,” said PennVention Co-Director and Wharton and Engineering junior Guthrie Gintzler.
In February, close to 100 teams comprised of 350 individual participants within the University entered the competition. This year, PennVention had the highest number of first-round submissions in the competition’s history — up 30 percent from last year — from a more diverse pool of competitors, including teams from Penn’s GSE and Nursing school.
The first-round competition requires teams to make a presentation of just five slides. In the second round, about 25 semifinalist teams will create a five-minute video pitch. PennVention grants semifinalists $200 and provides video editing resources for teams. Even if they don’t make it past the second round, semifinalist teams walk away with a high-quality video they can use to market their product.
In the final round — to be held on April 8 — teams will give a live presentation and answer questions for an audience and a panel of judges. Leading up to the presentation, teams work with a Wharton professor on developing the necessary skills to make an effective venture capital pitch.
The top three teams win prizes of $5,000, $3,500 and $1,500, respectively. Additionally, there are four Name Prizes awarded by sponsor companies to teams of their choosing.
According to past competitors, the most valuable takeaway from PennVention is the mentorship program. PennVention has an extensive alumni network of over 65 entrepreneurs in various fields across the world. Notable PennVention alumni include projects such as uBeam, BioBots, Fever Smart, GoogolPlex, GovPredict and Identified Technologies.
“Our goal is that our alumni will be able to be successful, either with this idea or some other idea,” Gintzler said. He added that many teams who do not make it past the initial round continue to work on their ideas after PennVention.
“We like to think of PennVention as the early stage in where these teams are headed. We do our best to nudge these teams along to get them from the idea stage to actually having a marketable product,” Co-Director and College junior Ben Feis said.
Dosed, one of the 25 semifinalist projects, is a mobile solution intended to revolutionize how Type I diabetics manage and track their insulin dosage. It also helps loved ones stay alert about the status of their family members and how clinicians may observe and treat their patients.
Dosed was co-founded by Wharton senior Daniel Fine and his brother Jake, who suffers from Type I diabetes. From Jake’s experience, the brothers learned that the difficulty for many diabetes patients is not in doing the math, but in estimating how many carbohydrates a food item actually contains.
Dosed has two main components. The first is a calculator that uses several algorithms to compute how much insulin a patient needs based on the number of carbohydrates they’ve consumed and their blood glucose levels. The second is a database of menus from 525 of the nation’s most prominent restaurant chains, in addition to a half million different food items. When a user eats out, the app uses location services to automatically load that restaurant’s menu.
For Fine, who has started other ventures on his own, competing in PennVention has been a lot of fun.
“It adds another factor to the excitement of what we’re creating and what we’re doing.” Fine said. “Something I like specifically about PennVention is that it gives people the incentive to commercialize concepts. A lot of people at Penn have ideas in general ... but the actual creation and implementation of a business is limited.”
Similarly, semifinalist Harrison Xue, Wharton MBA candidate and co-founder of Avenue One, has found building his business on Penn’s campus to be a “tremendous” experience due to the research, knowledge and resources readily available.
Avenue One is a consumer analytics company that helps companies test their new apparel products with prospective customers before they launch. The results will help designers and retailers optimize assortment decisions and reduce excess inventory.
“Instead of paying for expensive inventory to find out if a new design will be successful, we help leverage existing e-commerce channels to pre-sell three to five samples and use data mining, modeling and statistics to predict what to expect if a product is launched,” Xue said.
Avenue One co-founder and Wharton MBA candidate Pietro Lomazzi, a former model, found through his experience in fashion retail that the assortment process is usually very inefficient and often lacks analysis.
“Designers don’t have direct feedback from the market. In some sense, we’re trying to connect those two worlds and let them talk,” he said.
“The question of what to include in your inventory and what not to include involved a lot of guesswork, and that’s still true today,” Xue said. “Our philosophy is to focus on small data. We believe there’s a lot of companies chasing after very big and complex analysis, and we want to focus on finding the most simple, most straightforward analytics that makes business sense.”
Regardless of the competition’s outcome, both teams said they are planning on moving forward with their companies.
“We’re taking a very long term approach to this business because I think we’re solving a massively complex problem that no one has been able to effectively address since the dawn of retail,” Xue said.
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