Student teams pitch business plans in need of funding

For three dizzying hours on April 12, two dozen student teams pitched their best startup ideas to expert judges in hopes of winning a portion of $35,000 in the highly popular Johns Hopkins Business Plan Competition, now in its 14th year.

Hawking everything from a new way to grow delicate truffles without soil to an online "pink quotient" survey that assesses gender sensitivity, these teams had made it into the final round, out of 74 entries submitted from across the university system to the competition organized by the Whiting School of Engineering's Center for Leadership Education. Teams may include non-JHU affiliates, but at least one member has to be a current part- or full-time Johns Hopkins student serving on the management team of the startup.

Lawrence Aronhime, senior lecturer and director of CLE's Entrepreneurship & Management Program, says, "This was our best event yet. We had great student teams and terrific input from the judges. Each year it gets better and better."

At a dinner in the Glass Pavilion, applause punctuated the hush of the crowd as winners were announced rapid-fire in three categories: General Business, Medical Technology and Life Sciences, and Social Enterprise and Community Service. Winning teams receive $6,000 to put toward taking their ideas to the next business level; second place, $4,000; third place, $2,000; each runner-up, $250.

Taking the top spot in their categories were:

General Business: KidVentions offers a unique entertainment experience for children by enabling them to design their own plastic toys using state-of-the-art 3-D printing. "There was a lot of great competition. It could have gone any way," says a relieved Neil O'Donnell, a BME graduate student, who says his team will use the money to help pay for a $30,000 in-store test of its concept.

Medical Technology and Life Sciences: PathoS ClearView developed a reusable applicator and disposable component that would enable pathologists to quickly prepare microscopy slides. "This is a very simple device that could have a big impact," says Vaishakhi Mayya, a graduate student in the Department of Biomedical Engineering's Center for Bioengineering Innovation & Design.

Social Enterprise and Community Service: Healthify, founded by students who volunteered in Baltimore City clinics, offers computer software that assists underserved populations locate much-needed services such as GED training, food pantries, and energy assistance. "We've all worked in the clinics, so we were trying to respond to a pretty critical technological infrastructure problem," says team member Manik Bhat, who graduated in 2012 with a degree in biology from the Krieger School of Arts & Sciences.