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| Photo from Michele Besso

Student entrepreneurs battled for more than for more than $100,000 in cash and prizes last Friday in the first ever Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Startup Showcase.

The event featured a “Shark Tank” style competition where student-founded startups competed for funds to make their products come to life. 

In the final showcase, which lasted the entire day, judges whittled down 29 semifinalists to eight finalists who continued to compete for resources to launch their startups.

The winning group was Twine, a human resources software company that helps employers save money by retaining their top employees. The group, who beat over a hundred other participants, won a $30,000 grand prize.

“It’s been very exciting to be here, but also nostalgic since this is our last year at Penn; one day I hope to return to the competition as a judge” said co-founder and Chief Technology Officer of Twine and Wharton MBA student Nikhil Srivastava. 

The second place was awarded to RightAir, a company that produces a wearable device that helps emphysema patients breathe. CitySense, a company that provides analytics services for water utilities, was awarded third place.

The showcase was open to the public and anyone attending the event could vote for their favorite startup to win the People’s Choice Award. This year’s winner was Splaced, an online marketplace that bills itself as the Airbnb of commercial space.

The showcase was as a test of the students' presentation skills as it was their products.

Semifinalists and other student entrepreneurs had the opportunity to give one-minute elevator pitches — quick, understandable explanations of their products — in an actual elevator to experienced investors and entrepreneurs. Further on, finalists had to outline their business to a panel of judges, then pitch their ideas to an audience on the stairs of the Huntsman Hall Forum.

The Startup Showcase is an adaptation of the Wharton Business Plan Competition, which was first launched in 1999. Organizers of the event made tweaks to the competition because they wanted it to focus more on pitching and how students engaged their respective markets, rather than on a static business plan.

Clare Leinweber, managing director of Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship, helped to rethink the competition.

“We reshaped the showcase to be a Penn-wide, student entrepreneurship event, one that helps student startups raise funds but also learn and grow as entrepreneurs” she said.

Investors, entrepreneurs and Penn alumni evaluated the startups. Among them was 2003 Wharton graduate Brett Topche, co-founder of Red & Blue Ventures, a company that invests in Penn startups. Topche believes the new showcase is a step in the right direction.

“What I love about this competition is that it forces students to think through every single aspect of making their startup successful," he said. "I also think that the shift in focus from exclusively Wharton-run companies to University-wide startups is extremely positive and beneficial for all involved."