Eight Student Finalists Selected for Annual LaunchPad Pitch Competition at Startup Grind Global Conference

LaunchPad student entrepreneurial teams are competing in the network’s annual student pitch competition, this year held virtually at Startup Grind’s Global Conference.

Since January 12th, student entrepreneurial teams from colleges and universities throughout the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars global network have been competing in the network’s annual student pitch competition, held this year virtually at Startup Grind’s Global Conference, a convening of leaders in technology and big brands at the forefront of innovation. From 30 semi-finalists, eight student teams were selected to pitch for a chance at winning a total of $50,000 in prizes. The finalists represent eight different schools and range in industry, size, and geography, from a Texas nonprofit pairing students with older adults, to an AI solution that better predicts operating room usage, to a tea manufacturer utilizing Florida-native Yaupon Holly.

In addition to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd prize winners, Blackstone LaunchPad will also name – for the first time – a ‘People’s Choice’ award with an additional $5000 prize. Anyone can vote to support these student ventures through Tuesday, February 23rd at 11:59pm EST.

You can preview the eight finalists pitches below. To view the full videos and cast your vote, please visit HERE.

Judges for the final round pitch will include David Cohen, Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Techstars; Brian Brackeen, General Partner at Lightship Capital; and Christine Feng, Senior Managing Director at Blackstone Growth. They will evaluate the student ventures on the strength of the presentation, the viability of the idea, and existing traction the venture has had. Winners will be announced Thursday, February 25th on the Startup Grind Global Conference virtual mainstage.

 “We’ve been so impressed by these student entrepreneurs and their resilience, drive, and commitment to finding solutions to pressing problems,” said Blackstone Charitable Foundation executive director Amy Stursberg. “We are proud to support their efforts through our LaunchPad program and know they will continue to do great things.”

The Finalists

Every one of the thirty schools in the Blackstone LaunchPad network had an opportunity to nominate their top student-founders, and semifinalists received one-on-one coaching from Blackstone mentors to help refine their pitches.

The eight 2021 finalists are:

Big & Mini, Aditi Merchant, Cofounder and COO, University of Texas at Austin 

Big & Mini is a platform that creates meaningful, 1:1 connections between college students in need of guidance (Minis) and older adults wanting to connect (Bigs). With over 1,000 active matches from all 50 states and 25 countries just nine months since founding, Big & Mini is on its way to achieving its mission of ending loneliness and bridging societal divides.

Hopscotch, Marla Beyer, Cofounder and CEO, Cornell University 

Hopscotch is a digital platform that enables pediatric behavioral health providers to provide optimal care to their clients, in and out of the office. Through a suite of plug and play software tools that include customized gamified exercises and interventions, tailor-made telehealth, and wraparound family support, providers can increase client and family engagement, patient satisfaction, streamline their workflows, and increase access to a wider population.

Opollo Technologies, Ryan Young, Founder and CEO; Anders Rosen, Chief Sales & Marketing Officer, University at Buffalo

Operating rooms account for 60% of revenue at healthcare facilities, yet inefficiency in surgery scheduling and forecasting costs more than $5 billion each year. Opollo Technologies, a healthcare technology startup founded by an MD/MBA student with a team of three software engineers and head of sales and marketing, has a completed AI model ready to pilot now to support facilities in need of increased OR capacity and efficiency.

PHIXED Systems, Achala Rao, Cofounder and Chief Scientific Officer; Evin Sellin, Chief Technology Officer, University of California, Davis

PHIXED is the first bioreactor monitoring system that uses machine learning to prevent costly losses for biomanufacturing organizations. It enables minimal-downtime biomanufacturing through real-time error detection, built-in redundancy, and predictive analytics.

Ready Teddy by Lumeum, Max Orozco, CEO, University of Southern California

MRIs are intimidating and scary, resulting in the sedation of 49% in pediatric populations — a rate that can be reduced with adequate preparation. Ready Teddy is a biofeedback MRI training that reduces sedation rates and is creating a healthcare metric informing clinicians which patients can avoid sedation.

realAppeal, Colton Pace, CEO; Frank DiZenzo, Chief Revenue Officer, University of California, Los Angeles

realAppeal is an online solution that helps property owners save on the costs of real estate ownership. realAppeal enables homeowners and real estate investors to reduce their property taxes, refinance loans, reduce insurance premiums and more, helping property owners save thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes.

Saru Recycling, LLC, Jake Tivey, Director of Finance and Business Operations; Semi Cole Toluwani, Cofounder and Director of Governmental Affairs & Business Development, University of California, Riverside

Saru Recycling builds autonomous, solar-powered waste management units that reduce landfill waste and optimize refuse disposal to benefit firms and users alike. Using advanced telemetry and object recognition to sort waste and gather data, Saru Recycling reduces emissions and saves hosts money, reimagining recycling for the modern world.

Yaupon Brothers American Tea, Kyle White, Cofounder & Bryon White, CEO, University of Central Florida

Yaupon Brothers Tea is a company that makes tea from the FL native Yaupon Holly, an antioxidant-rich plant that also happens to be the only native caffeinated plant in the entire US. Since Yaupon is native, it requires minimal soil inputs and would offer a high-value low-cost cash crop for FL farmers affected by the citrus greening crisis.

Previous Winners

Winners from the most recent LaunchPad network pitch competition at the network’s 2019 annual conference in New York City, have made impressive strides since. Michael Broughton, a USC student, won first place for Perch (then, Credit Starter), a free app that helps young adults build credit using non-traditional data, such as rent, Netflix, and utilities. Michael raised $2.5M in seed funding and participated in the Y Combinator startup accelerator. In second place was Kelsey Davis, a Syracuse student who founded CLLCTVE, a platform connecting college creators and brands targeting Gen-Z consumers. Kelsey was selected to participate in the Techstars LA Accelerator and was included in this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 edition.

Third place went to a team of University of California, Berkeley alumni who created Eat Makhana. The company –  founded by Mallika Chawla, Amruta Gadgil, and Vineet Sinha – makes healthy, nutritious, and allergy-friendly snacks from popped water lily seeds. They sell both directly to consumers online and at nearly 60 retail locations in California.

A New Partnership

“Over the past few years, Startup Grind has put emphasis on bridging the gap between the world of startups and student entrepreneurs,” said Startup Grind CMO Karlie Valine. “Our content is designed to help students and startups alike develop the skills they need to start and grow a business. We’re excited to continue to support a diverse community of students through our partnership with LaunchPad and the dynamic young entrepreneurs they’ve invited to showcase at this year’s Global Conference. The future is bright and we’re thrilled to be a small part of the journey for the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

In addition to the Global Conference, LaunchPad’s partnership with Startup Grind also provides students access to the Startup Grind Student Program, which includes networking and educational events as well career and internship opportunities. Any LaunchPad student can receive support from their campus program and the global network, no matter their sector or stage. From connecting students with mentors for startup advice to bootcamp, fellowship, and pitch opportunities and learning key entrepreneurial skills to apply to any career endeavor, students find unique value in the Blackstone LaunchPad & Techstars Program.

Make sure to visit HERE over the next week to view finalist videos and vote.

The views expressed in this commentary are the personal views of the Startup Grind finalists and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Blackstone Group Inc. and The Blackstone Charitable Foundation.