April 20, 2009

Entrepreneurs Seek Next Big Idea in Competition

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Ezra Cornell’s development of the telegraph made him a leading entrepreneur of his time. Following in Cornell’s spirit of entrepreneurship, this year’s Big Idea competition celebrated ingenuity of students in the fields of business and social enterprise.
Organized by Entrepreneurship@Cornell, this year’s Big Idea competition, which began with submissions in December and continued through a series of eliminations this week, culminated Friday when the winning ideas in the two categories were selected from a pool of 12 finalists.
Whether aiming to alleviate massive social ills or filling a missing niche in the consumer market, each of the ideas at the competition attempted to provide unique solutions to current deficiencies.
“Business enterprise and social enterprise have kind of diverged over years” Matt Wagner MBA ’09, said in the opening address. “This year we decided to incorporate more of the campus by promoting social consciousness along with business.”
Both sections contained six representative finalists. From these finalists, a panel of judges and votes casted by the audience selected two runner-ups and winners from each category.
In the social enterprise competition, there were a wide variety programs aimed at a variety of goals, from alleviating international dependence on fossil fuels and creating marketplaces for carbon offsets to creating educational opportunities using Internet mediums. The first runner up, Bernales and Goretti, created a bespoke clothing line that paid a living wage to their factory workers in the developing world. Jefferson King ’09 and YOUNG-Liberia, the second runner up, sought to foster development in Liberia through microfinance and educational programs. In the end, however, RapeAlert took the prize with its system of Wi-Fi based positioning beacon to assist law enforcement in preventing rape on college campuses.
“We both have friends who have been attacked and it is a topic that matters to us,” Emily Forsythe ’09, co-founder of RapeAlert along with Emily Turner ’09, stated in an e-mail. “People approached us about funding after the competition and we are currently working with a company in Boston on a prototype for the device. We are very excited about the prospect of getting funding to implement this idea.”
In the business category of the competition, there were a number of unique, new products proposed, including a web-based hiring platform for musicians, an integrated pillow/waking device and a customizable university-based sober ride service. Aniq Rahman ’09 of HireCube.com, a job posting website with integrated video and testing, won second runner-up.
“We initially created the program to help bridge the gap between companies that don’t have the resources to recruit in Cornell with the students here, providing end-to-end services from initial contact to hiring.” Rahman ’09 said. “We are having our alpha launch next month with a group of about 50 companies and we are currently in talks with about 500 more, all of whom are interested in cutting their recruiting costs for technology-based jobs.”
Ken Colwell ’09 received the first runner-up commendation for his proposed method of minimal impact sea-borne hydrogen farming.
The winner for the business competition, Joshua Groleau ’11 and CentriPedal, proposed a mechanized automatic transmission for bicycles.
“When I was in high school, my father showed me how the automatic transmission of a snowmobile worked and I thought that it would be really practical for a bike. Since that time, I have worked on the idea and conceived a working plan,” Groleau said. “There is currently only one other firm offering an automatic transmission design, which really allows for my more simplified design to enter the market.”
In addition to the six prizes awarded at by the judges, an additional “People’s Choice” award, which was voted for by visitors to the Entrepreneurship@Cornell website. Ken Colwell’s Hydrogen Farming concept was the winner of this award.