Posted April 22nd, 2014
DemoDay, the culminating event of the the startup prototyping competition that is NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s Inno/Vention, provided a potential glimpse into the futures of this year’s finalists.
In a span of 12 weeks, the final six teams have moved their innovations from brainstorming and market research to fundraising and prototyping. The final stage in the process places them on an actual stage to present their market-ready concepts before a panel of esteemed and knowledgeable judges.
Spotify Headquarters, a startup itself just five years ago, served as the perfect backdrop for the evening’s events. Aside from being a cool venue, with the latest sounds streaming from speakers overhead and oversized QR codes decorating the walls like artwork, Steven Kuyan, associate director of Incubator and Entrepreneurial Initiatives and Inno/Vention's project manager, saw it as an opportunity for more.
“I always try and get students off campus to see what New York City has to offer," Kuyan said. "Presenting at Spotify gave the teams and the audience a great opportunity to see what a successful startup can achieve."
All six teams, three hardware (SensD, Skinesiology, and C3 Robotics) and three software (PeekBite, Realeyes, and urlinq) took on the task of solving real world issues which range from navigating one’s surroundings to getting the most from your university experience.
Rebecca Hillegass, a junior majoring in computer science, and Jason Shapiro, an alum, set out to democratize “fashion by opening up new lines of makeup discovery” with their startup Realeyes. After a makeup mishap, Rebecca, who has sensitive skin, suffered a swollen face and a lasting rash from products not designed with her in mind.
“During my birthday, [Jason] was with me, when I had this terrible reaction and we were like, ‘Let’s fix this,’” Hillegass said.
Their website helps to educate and demystify makeup for underserved consumers, like Rebecca with her sensitive skin, as well as African-American and Latino communities.
Inno/Vention is where thinkers become problem solvers. Teams are all partnered with mentors who provide guidance and support during the process. The lessons learned by the combination of hands-on creating and the resource of workplace professionals are invaluable.
“Something we learned from this competition is always do customer validation before you build anything,” Shapiro said. “Here, every step along the way we’ve taken feedback, done testing, changing [Realeyes] along the way.”
Abhishek Sharma, a computer engineering junior at and a member of the PeekBite team, has also reaped the lasting benefits of the Inno/Vention competition.
“I’ve interned at many companies. Big companies are already established and there’s a structure to everything,” said Sharma. “But this was my very first time building something completely from scratch, having to learn on my own through trial and error. I learned how to manage a team. It was a real learning experience.”
PeekBite, software that boasts “seamless for sit-in restaurants,” puts ordering in the hands of anyone with a Smartphone. Users are able to search, read item reviews, select and pay for food and drinks without the assistance of wait staff.
Felicia Schniederhan, Team PeekBite member and a master’s student in economics, credits a large part of the team’s success with the venture to their outlook on problem solving.
“We all have the same analytical minds, creativity and inspirations,” Schneiderhan said. “We bring each other to our full potential.”
Before announcing the 2014 Inno/Vention winners, Kuyan reminded all of the teams that their stories didn’t have to end there; win or lose, the competition could be just the beginning for them.
“Someday, when you’re at the size of Spotify, you’ll look back and realize that some of the things you’ve accomplished in the past 12 weeks ultimately helped contribute to your success.”
The top hardware and software teams were Skinesiology and PeekBite, respectively. The overall winners coming in first, second, and third were PeekBite, Skinesiology and SensD, respectively. C Cubed Robotics was also awarded the Soros-Hultin Prize for Innovative Urban Engineering. Congratulations to all the teams and best of luck as you move forward with your ideas.