Who Has That Spark?

The Entrepreneurship and Innovation Association (EIA) -- the largest club at NYU-Poly and one of the largest entrepreneurship clubs at any NYU school -- has had more than its share of success stories. Brian Shimmerlik, then an MBA student at Stern, met his business partner, NYU-Poly’s Abuhena Azad, at an EIA event, and the two went on to found TaxiTreats, a start-up that has attracted the attention of the NYC Venture Fund, David Tisch and others for its mission to place compact, high-tech vending machines in unusual locations. Antonio Pellegrino, an NYU-Poly student and EIA board member, co-founded circles.io, a provider of backend services to app and Website developers that is now a tenant at the DUMBO incubator. Initiatives like SparkStart and Inno/Vention, contribute to an evergrowing list of similar stories.

For the first time this year, EIA's SparkStart competition is combining with the annual Inno/Vention competition for a multistage event that promises to usher a new group of aspiring entrepreneurs into NYU-Poly’s gallery of success stories. “SparkStart is a great competition, and it’s resulted in a lot of great ideas, but joining forces with Inno/Vention has allowed us to make more of an impact and resonate with students,” the EIA’s Derrick Hsiou said. “We’re providing guidance and support every step of the way. I’m especially excited about the business model canvas that participants are being taught to fill out. It’s not a business plan, because this isn’t business-plan competition; it’s a rubric that clearly lists the steps they need to take for success.”

Since February 4, interested students have been gathering to pitch ideas and hunt for teammates. The EIA has been providing regular seminars and coaching sessions to ensure that participants understand the importance of presentation skills and analyzing market opportunities and planning their prototypes. Lindsey Marshall of the NYU Innovation Venture Fund and Andrew Koopman with NYU New Venture Development, are among the savvy mentors who are working with the contestants. Throughout the process the participants will be encouraged to keep in mind the philosophy developed by business guru Steve Blank of “lean start-ups” — frugal, capital-efficient organizations with a low burn rate.

On February 26, in Pfizer Auditorium, everyone is invited to watch the culmination of SparkStart -- the Power Pitch -- where judges will decide which teams make it to the next stage and receive $500 to develop their prototypes. Students will also be able to participate in the judging by voting for their favorite teams. Voter favorites will automatically be seeded into the second stage. Vote for your favorite team here.

Teams that make it through SparkStart to the second stage of the competition, ProtoTest, could find themselves competing for a prize pool of more than $22,000 during DemoDay, the third and final stage, which will be kicking off on April 4 with an information session at the Greenhouse. In addition to the monetary prizes, the teams selected to present at the final DemoDay event, to be held in Pfizer on April 24, will be vying for summer tenancy at the NYU-Poly incubators — and a chance to land on that list of success stories alongside Shimmerlik, Pellegrino and the rest.

Pellegrino, who helped inaugurate SparkStart and who continues to be involved in the competition despite the demands of running his business, believes that participating is an invaluable experience. “It’s one thing to have an idea,” he said. “You could have an idea for a submarine that can fly to the moon, but that wouldn’t be very practical. Here at Poly, we’re engineers and builders, and SparkStart and Inno/Vention can help you actually take your idea to market.”

A full schedule of the competition can be found at poly.edu/innovention.