Exceptional Enterprise at Columbia and Beyond

Oct 27 2017

A formidable array of student and alumni entrepreneurs faced off in the Columbia Venture Competition at the fourth annual #StartupColumbia Festival, competing for glory and $250,000 of seed funding across a range of interdisciplinary challenges. Then, an all-star roster of thought leaders— including entrepreneurs, investors, engineers, academics, and journalists—took the stage to discuss how rising companies are taking on immense global problems like health care, climate change, and the explosion of “fake news” online.

The Columbia Venture Competition was divided into five categories, from which first-place winners were awarded $25,000, second-place got $15,000, and third-place received $10,000 in prize money.

Dean Mary C. Boyce announced the winners of the Technology Track and Global Technology Track awards, both sponsored by Columbia Engineering. Voyant Photonics, from electrical engineer Chris Phare PhD’17, took first in the Technology Track for a compact and inexpensive laser radar for self-driving cars. In second place, from Charles Pan BS’16, Aonnicha Burapachaisri BS’16, and Aishwarya Raja BS’16, was Cathecare—previously honored at the Collegiate Inventors Competition and at the Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams (DEBUT) Challenge from the NIH National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering and VentureWell; it uses germicidal UV light to sterilize catheter hubs. IMMPLACATE from Mariko Kanai ’17CC and Holly Wobma ’19CUMC took third for providing off-the-shelf stem cell therapy for immune disorders.

In the Global Technology Track, Kheyti from Kaushik Kappagantulu ’17BUS won first for innovating affordable greenhouses for smallholder farmers in the developing world, while Luso Labs from Ritish Patnaik BS’16—which in an earlier incarnation as cerVIA took second in the Undergraduate Challenge at the 2016 Columbia Venture Competition and was honored at the DEBUT challenge—took second for automated and accessible cervical cancer screenings. Allied Microbiota from Frana James BS’15 placed third for offering cheaper, more effective cleanup of various pollutants.

In the Undergraduate Challenge, Palette from Alan Gou ’17SIPA and George Liu ’17CC took first for their platform for getting more out of growth and marketing experiments, while NoMor from Chiara Vallini BS’17, Caroline Chiu BS’17, Hae Seong Kim BS’17, John Mavroudes BS’17, and Walid Rahman BS’17 placed second for developing an antitremor device for essential tremor patients. Following in third was Pencraft from Derek Netto BS’17, which offers a motion controller for mobile gaming.

Unbound from Lorraine White ’17BUS took first in the Startup Columbia Challenge for her e-commerce company empowering women through enhanced sexual wellness, followed by SleepAXIS from Saad Shaikh ’17BUS and Salman Ali ’17BUS and Mindr from Sarah Lux-Lee ’16SIPA in second and third, respectively, for their work in improving sleep telemedicine and creating events for intellectually minded parents and babies.

The Public Policy Challenge from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) had three cowinners, who will each receive $15,000: FiveOne Labs from Sophia Burton ’17SIPA, an incubator for displaced and conflict-affected entrepreneurs in the Middle East; HelmetStart from Olivia Marie Arguinzoni ’17SIPA, which encourages motorcyclists in India to wear helmets; and I-Care from Xinwei Gao ’17SIPA, which provides better medical data to senior citizens.

Some 1,000 attendees gathered to hear the winners announced and listen to leading experts discuss how visionary enterprise is transforming and solving some of the 21st century’s biggest challenges.

A panel moderated by Orin Herskowitz, executive director of Columbia Technology Ventures, examined the enormous expansion of venture capital and facilities for the life sciences in New York City over the past 15 years. Professor Gordana Vunjak- Novakovic—co-founder of three biotechnology companies, director of Columbia’s Laboratory for Stem Cells and Tissue Engineering, and recently a recipient of the University’s highest academic honor—talked about her extensive partnerships with entrepreneurs, fellow researchers, and students in bringing groundbreaking regenerative medicine to the public.

Several speakers addressed how leaders are approaching the climate crisis in an era of uncertain policy. Jeffrey Sachs, a University Professor at Columbia and a special advisor to former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on goals for sustainable development, argued for sweeping changes in the industrial and agricultural sectors worldwide, while Adam Sobel, Professor of Applied Mathematics and Applied Physics and of Earth and Environmental Sciences as well as director and chief scientist of Columbia’s Initiative on Extreme Weather and Climate, discussed the difficulty of focusing public attention on hugely complicated scientific research.

“Climate change contributed to Superstorm Sandy, and such events are harbingers of what’s coming,” Sobel said. “But it’s difficult to give simple answers that are scientifically precise as well. Individual events can be a distraction from the big picture.”

Others talked about how industry and academia are approaching the crisis in journalism, with social media feeding the proliferation of misleading infotainment, and how entrepreneurs and advocates are working to welcome more female entrepreneurs and venture capital leaders.

The festival concluded with a memorable keynote from will.i.am, an entrepreneur, innovator, advocate for STEM/ STEAM education, and seven-time Grammy-winning global music artist. He is founder of i.am+, a technology and fashion startup moving into the artificial intelligence space, and has served as director of creative innovation at Intel and chief creative officer at 3D Systems. His work helps fund extensive STEAM-focused philanthropy including after-school and college scholarship programs geared at drawing more diverse talent into industry.

“Be an artist by learning science or any other form of tech, be an artist with a mathematical skill set,” will.i.am said. “Do it with the same swagger as if you were making beats. Do it with the same attitude as if you were making graffiti.”

#StartupColumbia was organized by Columbia Entrepreneurship and the Columbia Organization for Rising Entrepreneurs (CORE) with support from Columbia Technology Ventures, the Columbia Alumni Association, SIPA, the Lang Entrepreneurship Center, Columbia College, Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship, and generous sponsors.

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