The Tufts Entrepreneurship Center (TEC) hosted its 15th annual $100k New Venture Competition on Friday to celebrate and reward the entrepreneurial accomplishments of Tufts students, alumni and faculty. The daylong event took place at 51 Winthrop Street and was months in the making, according to TEC Director Jack Derby.
The competition commenced three months ago with hundreds of initial applications from across all 10 schools of the university, according to Derby. The applications then underwent three rounds of screening and judging before advancing to compete in the final round on Friday.
“This process of providing guidance, coaching and development to the applicants and the process of managing the actual events comes from the Center,” Derby told the Daily in an email.
The event began with introductions from Senior Associate Dean of Student Affairs Raymond Ou and Dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life Alan Solomont. Competitors then pitched their business plans to a panel of five entrepreneur judges in three different tracks: the Social Impact Track, the General Business & Technology Track and the Medical Devices & Life Science Track. The judging concluded at 5:30 p.m. and was followed by a reception and networking opportunities.
Before prizes were awarded, University President Anthony Monaco delivered a welcome speech and Felice Shapiro interviewed Diane Hessan, both Tufts alumnae and entrepreneurs. Hessan was honored as the 2019 recipient of the Tufts Legends of Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award. She is the founder of C Space, which began in 2000 as a platform for online communities to aid in market research. Now, Hessan’s company Salient Ventures invests in the next crop of tech companies.
After Shapiro and Hessan’s conversation, the TEC awarded competitors a total of $75,000 in cash from sponsors and donors and $75,000 in rent credits from Cummings Properties.
According to the Gordon Institute website, first place awards were given to The Now Exchange in the Social Impact Track, both Dyne and Kandula Hard Kombucha in the General Business & Technology Track, and Sterilyse in the Medical Devices & Life Science Track.
Second place prizes were awarded to Kisaan in the Social Impact Track, NeverClog in the General Business & Technology Track, and Hero Patch in the Medical Devices & Life Science Track. Third place awards went to SustAg4all in the Social Impact Track, Estateably in the General Business & Technology Track and Vivo Sango in the Medical Devices & Life Science Track.
All the business pitches demonstrated exciting innovation, both TEC Program Administrator Carol Denning and Derby said.
“The pitches are very diverse but many share a common theme of making the world a better place through improving education, the environment, agriculture and health,” Denning told the Daily in an email.
“The projects that I have seen this year all through this process are just extraordinary in their depth, their research and their formation,” Derby said. “Just extraordinary!”
In her interview with Shapiro, Hessan outlined the three characteristics investors admire most in a new company: aspiration to solve a big problem, a solution that addresses the problem well and a team that is passionate and dedicated. Hessan also encouraged entrepreneurs to forge lasting connections with their communities.
“I really think that my biggest asset is my network,” Hessan said. “Get your head out of your spreadsheets, especially for those of you who are graduating, get your head out of all of your plans and go out and meet people, learn, go to conferences, go to seminars.”
Hessan also addressed a question from the audience about her experience as a female entrepreneur and the potential for minorities to succeed in the industry.
“Right now, in 2019, I think investors are dying to invest in people who are different,” Hessan said. “They want to hire women, they want to hire people of color. If you’re a double [minority] woman, I think there’s a big opportunity in 2019, so go for it.”
Hessan urged entrepreneurs to continue their work outside of the competition, citing her own experiences with failure in the initial phases of her business.
“Some of the greatest entrepreneurs I know lost every business plan competition they went to,” Hessan said. “There’s not always a relationship between who wins a business plan competition and who ends up being successful because there are so many other factors and your business ends up changing all the time.”