Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship's Fast Pitch 2021
Four judges, 31 ideas, 60 seconds, and $5,000 on the line. From 3D-printed medical devices to sustainable feed for catfish farmers, Columbia Engineering Entrepreneurship’s annual Fast Pitch competition brought out a range of impressive startup ideas from across the Columbia community. Out of the 31 ideas, three were submitted by alumni, five by undergraduate students, and 23 by graduate students. Each team had 60 seconds to pitch their idea, followed by 60 seconds of rapid-fire Q&A. Ideas were evaluated on 4 criteria, including viability, defensibility, value proposition, and stage presence & salesmanship.
As a judge for Fast Pitch, I had the opportunity to evaluate the ideas alongside a star-studded panel of judges, including Beverly Leon, CEO and Co-Founder of Local Civics; Kevin Zhang, Partner at Bain Capital Ventures; and Linh Le, CEO and Founder of Flextrapower. The quality of ideas made our decision very difficult, but we ultimately rewarded prizes to a total of 8 ideas, including all five of the undergraduate submissions and three of the 23 graduate submissions. For the graduate students, $1,200 was awarded to PythonFix for 1st place, with Joyshare and Joanne receiving $650 in a tie for second place. For the undergraduate prizes, $1,200 was awarded to RivR for 1st place, $600 to Langavi Chocolates for 2nd place, with Throworg, Acute, and Petids all taking home $200 for 3rd place. Releese also took home a $100 prize for the audience choice award.
Taking home first place and $1,200 was PythonFix, pitched by Iden Kurtaliaj, PhD candidate at BME. Inspired by the curvature of python teeth, PythonFix’s 3D printed medical device uses angled hooks to effectively grab flesh during surgical procedures and increase the efficacy of repairs. Kurtaliaj expects PythonFix to significantly reduce the need for repeat procedures, potentially saving hundreds of millions a year in medical expenses.
Kurtaliaj shared with me that the most exciting part of the competition was successfully compiling years of work and dozens of written documents into a 60 second pitch. She also added that “while this was a challenging task, it was really exciting to find out that the judges were hooked (no pun intended) by our idea and supported it by giving us the first prize." PythonFix is continuing to grow and is currently in the process of seeking more seed funding.
Two female-founded companies, Joyshare and Joanne, tied for second place amongst the graduate students, each winning a $650 prize. Joyshare was presented by co-founder and CEO Charlotte Keys, Columbia Business School class of 2022. Joyshare is a P2P application that allows users to send stocks and cryptocurrency to their friends instead of cash. After Charlotte’s friend won a stock pitch competition, she wanted to send them some stock and quickly realized that there wasn’t an easy way to do so, which became the inspiration for Joyshare. The Joyshare team plans to launch their beta for Columbia University students in late Q1 22, so sign up for their waitlist and newsletter!
Joanne was founded and pitched by Hannah Slaughter, Columbia Business School class of 2022. The idea was inspired by Hannah’s mom Joanne, sister, and CBS classmates, many of which don’t receive compensation equal to their male peers. Joanne provides users with compensation data from female peers, increasing transparency and negotiating power for women. Building on the momentum from the Fast Pitch competition, the Joanne team will be further developing their MVP and go-to-market strategy this spring as part of CBS’ Launch Your Startup II course.
Coming in first place for the undergrads was RivR, pitched by Shomik Ghose, class of 2023 at the School of Engineering and Applied Science. Described by Ghose as a combination between Uber and Pokemon Go, RivR is a gamified platform for completing micro tasks. Using RivR, individuals can hire freelancers to complete every day micro tasks, from lending a spare tire to picking up household supplies. RivR also incorporates an element of gamification, allowing freelancers to unlock rewards for completing micro tasks. According to Ghose, “the funding from Fast Pitch has really enabled and inspired us to further accelerate our development”. The team is looking forward to releasing their app in late January and interested users can sign up for the mailing list at www.joinrivr.com.
In second place for undergraduate students was Langavi Chocolates, pitched by Jorge Acevado Quezada, Columbia College class of 2023. Langavi Chocolates sells a unique product combining high quality chocolate with energy bars, and recently raised a million-dollar investment to expand their retail presence. Jorge comes from a family of chocolatiers and has expanded Langavi Chocolates under the mentorship of his father.
Throworg, Acute, and Petids all tied for 3rd place and took home a $200 prize. Pitched by founder Mariam Kamerji, class of 2024 at Columbia, Throworg is creating a smart trashcan that turns waste into resources. Throworg is part of a growing number of companies focused on addressing sustainability and hopes their trash can will help decrease emissions and waste.
Acute, pitched by Emily Lo, Class of 2024 at Barnard, is a mobile app that improves photographs by analyzing spatial surroundings and offering customized angles. With Acute, everyday people can capture high quality images and improve their digital content.
The final recipient of 3rd place was Petids, presented by Debbi Jiang, class of 2025 at Columbia. After realizing the difficulty of moving her pet from China to the United States, Jiang built Petids as a community for Chinese pet owners who are relocating their furry friends.
The competition was fierce in the 2021 Fast Pitch competition, so a big congratulations to all the participants and prize winners! Feel free to reach out to any of the winners mentioned above and keep an eye out for the Columbia Venture Competition coming up in the Spring!