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Student Ventures Stand Out with AU Center for Innovation Summer Program

Budding entrepreneurs learned how to launch their ventures during the three-week program that culminated with a video pitch competition and $3k grand prize.

Flags in front of Kogod building

For three weeks in July, 225 budding entrepreneurs from the global AU community learned the critical thinking, perseverance, and problem-solving skills critical to launching ventures during the American University Center for Innovation’s  (AUCI) first Startup and Standout event. The program culminated with the Meaningful Change Video Pitch Challenge, where five of the most promising teams pitted their proposals for tackling some of society’s most pressing problems against each other for a grand prize of $3,000 – and a chance to change the world.

In the weeks leading up to the video pitch challenge, the entrepreneurs-in-training met virtually with many of American University’s up-and-coming entrepreneurs through panel discussions and problem hack exercises. Michael Bleau, founder of EventHub, and Rachel Koretsky, founder of Upace, co-hosted a session about launching a commercial service. Maria Rose Belding, co-founder of MEANS Database, delivered the session on building a social impact venture. Katalina Mayorga, founder of El Camino Travel, and Justin Bridges, founder of Justin Bridges Photography, provided insights into challenges for small businesses in a COVID-19 world. Students could attend all sessions and earn a certificate, or they could focus on the session subjects which aligned with their interests and passions.

In several brainstorming/problem hack sessions, attendees were also able to work with current leaders of AUCI ventures (Garrett Ramala of Common Sense Coffee, Lacy Kaelani and Haben Ghebremeschel of Cuisine As Told By) in customer problem solving exercises.

In the first round of the video pitch competition, students worked together to expand their concepts to create meaningful change in the world, then pitched to the judges in two-minute, pre-recorded video segments. The judges, who were all former AUCI Incubator venture founders and current AU alumni, screened the submissions and selected five groups to participate in the final “live” pitch round.

“Judging the meaningful change competition gave me hope that the next wave of entrepreneurs can really change the world,” says Kogod MBA alum and founder of Mayvin Inc., Lisa Rosenthal.

Founders of the five final ventures—Good Games Company, CommunityHub, Parkner App, 17 Minds, and Cent-Sible U—had 48 hours to perfect their pitches and prepare for the three-minute live presentations. Groups worked alongside leadership from the Kogod Center for Business Communications to polish their delivery.

“This program focused on building community by encouraging students to think creatively and get inspired by each other. I appreciated the focus on social change and the opportunity to develop solutions to problems that are important to us,” says Sledja Ishmakej of Community Hub.

The first-place team, 17-Minds, conceived a wearable technology solution to improve the tracking and safety of children with autism spectrum disorder. Cent-Sible U, an app that aims to make personal finance fun for teens and young adults, took second place. The founder of third-place Community Hub moved closer to creating the app designed to bring international students closer together. However, all participants captured the attention of the experienced judges and entrepreneurs in attendance and shared their ideas about changing the world one company at a time. The competition helped each team refine their ideas and move one step closer to making their dreams come true.

“The Startup and Standout series was a rewarding experience that not only challenged our team to create engaging content but truly validated our venture idea in front of a group of accomplished and accredited judges,” says Joshua Wilens, member of the 17-Minds team.

Do you have an idea for a venture that can help solve a real-world problem? The deadline to apply for the fall 2020 cohort of ventures is August 30 and the next AUCI Startup and Standout event is a mere 10 months away!