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Inno/Vention Demo Day: Learning by Demonstrating

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After ten weeks of planning, prototyping, and prepping, six teams presented their ideas to five judges. By the end of the evening, three of the teams would walk out with cash prizes, with the first-place winner winning a suite of awards.

The final event of the Inno/Vention competition, Demo Day is the culmination of weeks of whittling down teams with a plan for a hardware- or software-related startup business venture—from the nearly 30 at the start of the ten weeks, when the pitches and ideas were just seeds, through rigorous power-pitching sessions and building prototypes, teams were cut along the way. The final six teams had been vetted through all of these steps and stood before the judges who would make the final decision on the grand-prize winner.

Besides cash prizes for the top three, along with additional cash and other incentives for the top hardware and top software awards, the first-place team secures spots in the upcoming School of Engineering Gala, Research Expo, and two tickets to TechCrunch Disrupt. The top three teams also receive a booth at TechDay New York and tickets to MobileWeek.

The evening’s judges hailed from multiple corners of the entrepreneurial spectrum, including an investor, a cofounder of a successful venture-backed startup company, a director at fundraiser site Indiegogo, and the School of Engineering’s Vice Dean for Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship and the Business Development Manager for the NYU Office of Industrial Liaison.

Every team’s polished demonstrations and presentations allowed for the many tough questions that the judges asked each team—important questions that got to the heart of the business sustainability of each project.

VIT, a fitness and nutrition app, began the evening. This app is programmed to be adaptive with the user by customizing exercise routines and meals. The package also includes healthy smoothies made with natural ingredients that would be sold alongside VIT. These smoothies would come in a powdered form and just require water. School-wide tastings were offered by team members to assure that these smoothies passed the taste test. (The judges were served the smoothies and affirmed their deliciousness.) Team members made no qualms in naming college students as the target audience for VIT. “We hope that college kids become their own distributors,” said team member Sebastian Garcia.

The next demonstration, Late Pass, is also an app focused on treating electronic event tickets similarly to paper tickets in the way physical objects can more easily be passed (and sold) from one person to another. This app would allow electronic ticket bearers to easily sell their tickets on an online marketplace. Interested parties would make bids on particular shows and sports games and match them with ticket holders selling tickets at the bid price. Late Pass team members say that the app would alleviate the problem of empty seats at events, since ticket holders would be able to sell e-tickets more reliably with this method.

Project Brew, the first hardware demonstration of the evening, is a personal, portable coffee brewer that, unlike other brewers, is USB-powered. The small pot—meant to appeal especially to desk workers and apartment dwellers—uses vacuum brewing and can use any sort of coffee grounds directly, without the use of disposable elements.

Next up was Intergrated, a customized and more comfortable hardhat system for construction workers. Team members visited several construction sites and distributed questionnaires in order to get a better of sense of how to improve hardhats. The findings were enlightening, with the two largest problems cited as being the lack of ventilation and lack of customizability. The Intergrated team responded by creating a hardhat with embedded microfans and ventilation openings. On top of this, they designed a site that would allow users to customize and order hardhats online—besides hat size, users would be able to order add-ons to their hats, such as flashlights, protective facemasks, or visors.

Physiometrix offered a way to detect repetitive injuries in athletes with the use of wearable tech embedded with sensors to predict a building up a muscular imbalance and, ultimately, a muscle injury. The wearables would be worn while the athlete works out or plays a game, and the information that is retained by the sensors is later graphed on and analyzed by a computer.

The final demonstration was for Spectre, a system that prevents the motion sickness that many virtual-reality users suffer by tracking the user’s eye movements with an infrared camera and LEDs. The eye-tracking technology, which has the ability of tracking the user’s pupil as well as any glints in the eye, would potentially allow for VR systems to accommodate to the user’s own gaze, thereby eliminating the problem of motion sickness.

The competition was extremely fierce and the ideas solid, with the judges admittedly having a difficult time choosing winners. Deliberation, however, did end: Spectre was declared the grand prize winner as well as the top hardware winner; VIT won second place and received the top software award; and Intergrated was the third-place winner.

Regardless, the evening was not just about winning awards and coming out on top. This was particularly noted by Carlos Ospina, a previous Inno/Vention competitor whose team created BotFactory, a desktop circuit-board builder that prints customized boards in a matter of minutes. Ospina and his team began working on the idea in the summer of 2013 and ended up not winning the competition—BotFactory is, regardless, quite a success, winning multiple merit prizes and gaining an investor. “It’s absolutely worth it to fail and learn,” noted Ospina. The competitions that Inno/Vention facilitate allow for this process to happen.

"Inno/Vention is an integral element of our school's entrepreneurship activities, with a history that parallels our incubator program. It provides a bridge between academics and the incubation of ideas, introducing students to the entrepreneurial ecosystem and—for the first time this year—providing every team in the finals with a faculty mentor," said Kurt Becker, vice dean for research, innovation and entrepreneurship. "Some of our students engage in the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship as early as freshmen in the Innovation and Technology Forum, as exemplified by this year's finalist team Physiometrix. We hope the experience of Inno/Vention will help all participants pursue their ideas and prototypes and ultimately turn them into viable ventures."