A platform that analyzes customer conversations to generate product insights and an electrochemotherapy catheter aiding in the treatment of advanced pancreatic cancers were among the new ventures that won top prizes at the 22nd annual Johns Hopkins University Business Plan Competition last week.
On Friday, 48 Hopkins teams pitched their ideas to judges, many of whom are Hopkins alumni, across four entry categories and two rounds of virtual competition. In the first round, judges viewed and scored pre-recorded, three-minute video pitches. Between the morning round of competition and the announcement of finalists, judges and members of the Hopkins community attended a networking session in a virtual exhibitor space, where they chatted live with teams to learn more about their ventures.
The networking session was a key component of the virtual event, according to JHU Business Plan Competition director Trevor Mackesey, as it allowed attendees to connect face to face outside of the pressure of competition. "We hope attendees think of this event as a place to find support and build community," said Mackesey, a lecturer in the Whiting School of Engineering's Center for Leadership Education, which hosts the annual event.
At noon, Mackesey announced the finalists moving onto the final round of competition—six teams in each of the four categories, which were General Enterprise and Technology, Medical Technology and Life Sciences I, Medical Technology and Life Sciences II, and Social Enterprise. After live final presentations, judges selected the top three teams in each category, who were then recognized during an awards ceremony following the presentation sessions.
Maria Artunduaga, founder and CEO of Respira Labs, closed the event with a keynote address. She described how her role models provided her with the inspiration and courage to leave her career as a surgeon and become an entrepreneur. She also encouraged attendees to support women and underrepresented minorities in STEM, entrepreneurship, and business.
"Real equity is only possible once you teach people to become independent and to fully own their present and future," Artunduaga said.
The competition began in earnest in late February, when 68 teams submitted early drafts of their business plans. More than 55 mentors provided feedback to teams on two rounds of submissions to help shape their pitches at Friday's event.
In the end, competitors in the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Whiting School of Engineering, the School of Medicine, and the Carey Business School took home top prizes in four categories. First-place teams received $5,000, second-place teams got $3,000, and third-place teams won $1,000.
Pam Sheff, director of the Center for Leadership Education, was thankful that the competition was able to continue in a virtual space for the second year in a row.
"It is remarkable that we were able to give all these students the opportunities to compete, to work with mentors and judges, and to get feedback on their ideas, but we are also very much looking forward to being in person next year," she said.
Business Plan Competition winners:
- General Enterprise & Technology: Team Personix, who pitched an easy-to-use software platform that analyzes customer conversations to generate product decisions and insights. Team members were graduate students Samantha Bell, Federico Campos, Mohamad Elgendi, Daniel Hong, Richard Kim, and Gabriel Ramirez.
- Medical Technology & Life Sciences I: Team CurieDx, who pitched an application that helps parents quickly identify common childhood illnesses such as strep throat and ear infections using mobile phone images and AI-driven software. Team members were Therese Canares and graduate student Keith Rochkind.
- Medical Technology & Life Sciences II: Team Pleurion Medical, who pitched an intravascular reversible electroporation device used to augment chemotherapy and reduce arterial invasion in locally advanced pancreatic cancers, allowing more patients to receive potentially curative surgery. Team members were graduate students Mariana Bendavit, Mackenzie Hall, Izabella Samuel, Samuel Weinreb, and Kai Zhang.
- Social Enterprise: Team WeGo Foundation, an organization that provides pediatric inpatients at 12 hospitals across the country a sense of normalcy by offering live virtual tours of partner attractions. Team members were undergraduate students Hayden Dux and Eric Fei and graduate students Pavan Shah and Galen Shi.
The full list of winners is available on the JHU Business Plan Competition website.