The winners of the Tufts Gordon Institute’s annual $100k New Ventures Competition were chosen last night, from 18 finalists competing in three tracks, as part of a two-day event intended to promote entrepreneurial advancement at Tufts.
Tufts-affiliated companies ZwitterCo and Ginger Time were the joint winners in the General/High-Tech track. ZwitterCo, which markets itself as a company that produces nanofiltration membranes to improve water recycling, and GingerTime, a company that sells shots with ginger juice and vitamins, won the largest prize in their track, valuing more than $30,000.
Cathbuddy, a venture centered around a portable handheld UV-C catheter sterilizer that aims to allow people using catheters to lessen their environmental impact and regain agency and mobility, was the winner in the MedTech and Life Sciences track. VASERA Male Contraceptives, which works on a hydrogel-based contraceptive, was the runner-up of the Medtech and Life Sciences track, and the winner of the Ricci prize, totaling $10,000.
Finally, Apollo Agriculture, a company focused on increasing profits for smallholder farmers, won the Social Impact track.
The two-part event on Wednesday, April 4 and Thursday, April 5, hosted by the Gordon Institute’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies (ELS) Program, is an annual competition offering prizes amounting to $100,000 altogether and an opportunity for Tufts-affiliated startups to promote their companies while capitalizing on potential investors and business experts offering advice and mentorship, the website says.
The participants entered their companies into one of three tracks — Social Impact, Medtech & Life Sciences, and General/High-Tech — in the hopes of being selected as one of the 18 finalists and ultimately getting a chance to compete for cash prizes.
Tina Weber, the coordinator of this year’s event, explained the process applicants went through during the event.
“Obviously the winning teams benefit from the prizes, both cash as well as services. However, all teams that [enter] the competition also get the benefit of experience in writing a business plan, in developing an investor pitch, in developing financial projections, and numerous other skills,” Weber wrote in an email to the Daily.
The annual competition, which drew over 110 submissions from alumni, undergraduate and graduate students and faculty across all seven colleges in the university, showcases the leading innovations across the Tufts community while offering monetary prizes and in-service amenities.
“The Tufts $100k New Ventures Competition aims to spotlight and showcase all the exciting innovation and entrepreneurial activities in the greater Tufts community,” Weber said.
But the two-day event — full of presentations, business pitches and lectures — proved to be the real draw for all involved.
The event featured presentations from the 18 competition finalists, speakers from across the Tufts alumni community and a keynote speech by Jamie Turner, an author, speaker and CEO of 60SecondMarketer.com.
Jamie Turner, the keynote speaker, focused on what he has learned in his experiences selling products, sharing anecdotes to elucidate the experience of marketing. He spoke about the value the $100k event brings to the entire Tufts community.
“The exchange of knowledge is important. In an environment like this it can get more granular and personal,” Turner said in an interview with the Daily. “It’s one thing to hear a lecture, it’s another thing to talk to people and then have those exchange of ideas.”
Of the alumni judges attending the event were Stephen Remondi (E ’87), who sold his company Exa Corporation for $400 million in a deal last year; Ben Carson Jr. (LA ’07), co-founder of Interprise Partners; Josh Goldman (LA ’88), who has generated billions of dollars in exit valuations as a partner with Norwest Ventures; Jordan Kievelstadt (E ’04), CEO of Free Flow Wines; Michael Doyle (LA ’05), President and CEO of QPID Health; and Bonnie Schnitta (J ’78), president of SoundSense and numerous patent holder in Acoustic technologies.
Jack Derby, director of the ELS program at Tufts and professor of the practice at the Gordon Institute, explained the many ways in which the event fosters benefits for all involved beyond the monetary prizes.
“We’re birthing companies. We [at the ELS Program] and other schools in the university know this is more important than the money … It’s really about the connections and the experience,” Derby said. “If you have connections and experience, the money will follow. So what we have here is a tremendous amount of connections, in professors, the administration, alumni, in board members and experiences for these teams to be exposed to.”
Many individuals at the event expressed similar sentiments. Josh Kapelman (LA ’12), one of the many ELS board members who attended the event, related how the competition and ensuing events provide everyone with great opportunities.
“Everyone’s getting something different out of this. In the big picture, this event is really here to highlight the entrepreneurial scene at Tufts … but more importantly to provide connections,” Kapelman said. “If you’re a student presenting here tonight, you’re meeting people who are willing to open up their network and work with you.”
Individuals from several of the companies involved raved about the experience that the $100k New Ventures Competition was providing them with. Daniel Weinstein, a senior and a member of UCHU BioSensors, a team that won the ELS program’s Stephen and Geraldine Ricci Interdisciplinary Prize in 2017, talked about the value he sees in the $100k competition.
“It’s an opportunity to … receive comprehensive feedback from accomplished judges, make valuable connections with business people in the Boston area, and experience the amazing entrepreneurial community at Tufts,” Weinstein said. “It’s not surprising, but the quality of the other teams in the competition is truly incredible.”
Sohail Ali (F ’19) particpated as one of the team members of EDKASA, a venture which “makes ‘rock star’ teachers accessible to secondary students in Pakistan at an affordable cost” and won the Fletcher D-Prize. He echoed the widespread acclaim of the platform that the event and the process provided.
“We got amazing coaching on our business plan and pitch,” Ali said. “ELS faculty literally spent hours with our team. We feel so much better prepared now compared to where we were at the start of the year.”
Before the keynote speech and announcement of the winners Thursday evening, Jamie Turner spoke briefly about what he sees as the largest takeaways from the annual event.
“One person can have an idea, but when two people are in a room, that idea is three times better,” Turner said. “When people are talking, they bounce ideas off one another and the next thing you know you’ve got a new, big idea.”
Editor’s Note: Zachary Hertz contributed reporting for this article.