Gordon Institute sponsors inaugral Idea Competition

While Tufts is known for its emphasis on “active citizenship,” a growing number of students and faculty are wishing to bring “entrepreneurship” closer to the forefront of the university experience. The Gordon Institute, founded in 1984, seeks to assist inspired Tufts students as they bring their ideas to life through a variety of educational programs and annual competitions. The $100K New Ventures Competition, sponsored by the Entrepreneurial Leadership Program (ELP) and the Gordon Institute, celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Additionally, this year marked the first Tufts Idea Competition, which helps sponsor student’s business ideas in their early stages.

The competition selected three winning proposals, each of which received a $1,000 cash prize for their business strategy. Trapsaver, presented by seniors David Leibenberg and Willem Sandberg from the School of Engineering, was one of the winning ideas. The product would assist fisherman in recovering sea fishing traps.

Thormika Keo, a clinical associate at Tufts Medical Center, and Diana Winston, a clinical instructor at Tufts Medical Center, also won for their Hadori Catheter proposal, a device that would aid physicians in visualizing colonoscopy procedures. The third winner, Syria Bicycle Company, was presented by Fletcher School graduate student Ely Teitsworth as an enterprise to employ displaced Syrians through bicycle manufacturing.

James Barlow, director of the ELP, discussed the wide array of applications to the Idea Competition.

“If you think about how a lot of those [business plans] have more than one team member, there’s a significant number of people working on cool and interesting projects across the university,” he said. “It was a really hard job to whittle down the finalists of the Idea Competition. To be honest, if we had greater capacity, it would be amazing.”

This year, the Tufts Idea Competition featured roughly 135 experienced applicants, according to Barlow. The competition has offered budding entrepreneurs and future leaders the opportunity to exchange business ideas and strategies. This growing sense of entrepreneurial leadership, however, was not always as prevalent in campus culture, according to Barlow.

“When I started at Tufts a few years ago, the Business Plan [100K New Ventures] Competition I felt was somewhat under representative of the entrepreneurial capacity at Tufts,” he said. “This is why I joined. We had 18 submissions to the Business Plan Competition [that year], and I was fairly convinced that we had the capacity of getting a lot more entries and a lot more involvement from the student body at Tufts.”

According to Barlow, applicants were not required to know all of the tenents of business models in order to participate in the competition, but had to develop a great idea. He discussed the ELP’s efforts to organize the competition.

“I’m thrilled about the changes that came with the competition and the things we’ve done to help generate ideas — [like hosting] workshops and better outreach — to really plug ourselves into what’s happening in the dorm rooms and the coffee shops in and around campus,” Barlow said.

Ely Teitsworth, one of the three winners, said her idea was inspired by the time she spent living in Damascus from 2010 to 2011.

“The inspiration for … [Syria Bicycle Company] came from a Skype conversation I had a couple of months ago with a Syrian friend,” Teitsworth told the Daily in an email. “He mentioned to me that the fastest way to get from my old neighborhood to his current neighborhood would be to walk — this shocked me both because that would require walking for several hours and because it used to be a fairly quick trip on the microbus.”

Teitsworth attributed Syria’s transportation issues to increasing fuel costs — a phenomenon that has affected social mobility for those aspiring toward a greater education or career change.

“There are so many Syrians — both inside and outside the country — who have been struggling to find ways to use their time productively and move forward with their lives at a time when they face so many constraints.” Teitsworth said. “It has been difficult to watch the consequences of the conflict in a place I had come to feel so connected to, and the huge number of young Syrians who have had to put their education and career aspirations on hold seemed like one area in which it might be feasible for me to act.”

Teitsworth said she firmly believes that bicycles are the solution to the transportation problem, and believes that her venture will make them more affordable and accessible to Syrians, while simultaneously creating more employment opportunities. She said she plans to use her prize money from the Tufts Idea Competition to study bicycle frame and wheel building, in order to aid in the company’s manufacturing process.12