Winners of $100k New Ventures Competition selected

Peter Sacco (F’17), the founder of startup Adelante Shoe Company, speaks to members of 180 Degrees Consulting on Nov. 17, 2016. Courtesy Ashley Miller

The annual $100k New Ventures Competition — a contest organized by the Gordon Institute’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies (ELS) Program that awards funding to several startup teams — selected the winners for this year’s competition two weeks ago.

The three winning teams will all receive capital and other services to kickstart their enterprises, according to Program Assistant in the ELS Department Christina Fogarasi. The three tracks that contestants could compete in were healthcare/life sciences, social impact and general/high-tech.

Fogarasi said that 57 teams initially entered the competition and, after screening, more than 20 were selected for live pitches. The finalists were chosen by a panel of judges, most of whom were lawyers, startup founders, professors and venture capitalists.

“Finalist judges determine the winners of the $100k after hearing their pitches … and reading their business plans, which include a financial statement. These judges are then asked to consider these and effectively act as an investor,” Fogarasi told the Daily in an email. “Which teams would they invest in? What sort of impact will [the] business have?”

Mark Ranalli, associate dean and executive director of the Gordon Institute, noted that the victors typically use their winnings to fund marketing or product development. He added that this year’s competition was very competitive and had strong winners.

“Each year, the quality of the competitors has increased,” Ranalli told the Daily in an email. “We’re seeing greater representation of entries from across the entire university.”

The first-place victory for the healthcare/life sciences track went to Tarsier, a company developing a device that could allow doctors to diagnose glaucoma earlier. Earlier diagnosis of the disease, which can eventually lead to total blindness, could allow for improved treatment, according to Tarsier co-founder and senior Andre Newland.

“The current procedure [for diagnosis] is incredibly flawed. It kind of works like a video game, where a light shines on a screen and a person clicks a button whenever they think they see a light,” Newland said. “But that clicking on a button creates patient bias … the patient isn’t necessarily in the right state of mind, and it’s easy to lie [regarding one’s vision] because no one else actually knows.”

Newland explained that the device would detect when a person sees the light instead of relying on indication from the individual. He hoped that the added accuracy of that procedure will make a significant long-term impact.

“That precision allows us, theoretically, to have diagnosis up to three years earlier,” Newland said.

In the future, Newland said that Tarsier hopes to patent its technology and then affiliate itself with doctors and hospitals.

The first-place prize for the social impact track was given to Adelante Shoe Co. Adelante was founded by Peter Sacco, a student at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy graduating in May. Sacco explained that two years ago he set out to make a business that produces socially-responsible footwear.

“What the company stands for, more than anything, is paying workers a fair enough price to live well for their families in return for work well done,” he said. “It’s the idea of responsible international business and business not having to be a zero sum game, although many times it is.”

Sacco noted that Adelante works with craftsmen in Guatemala, many of whom are second- or even third-generation shoe makers. He added that he hopes Adelante can have a positive impact on society.

“I hope that what happens is that we pay our craftsmen enough to live well with their families, which means affording healthcare [and] education,” Sacco said.

According to Sacco, part of Adelante’s goal is to encourage other businesses to be more socially responsible.

“The bigger picture is that we as a company prove that there’s a huge market for products that are produced in a socially responsible way,” Sacco said. “By proving that that’s profitable, we can start to change the standards by which other businesses operate. That’s the bigger picture goal — that 50 years from now, all companies are doing this because people care.”

Finally, the general/high-tech winner was Epic CleanTec, which builds on-site systems that can process and treat buildings’ wastewater. Aaron Tartakovsky (LA ’12) from Epic said that the company will use its new funding to improve technology and prepare for building installations. Tartakovsky noted that their victory in the competition was testament to the organization’s “unorthodox” approach.

“Our team is attempting to shake up an industry in which none of us have any direct connection, and conventional wisdom would say we have no place being there,” Tartakovsky told the Daily in an email. “We are firm believers in the triple bottom approach to our work, which is to say, a truly sustainable business must be good for people, good for the planet, and good for profits.”

CORRECTION: This article has been updated to change Christina Fogarasi’s title within the Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies program. The Daily regrets this error.