19 Apr 2018

One Last Pitch

Alumni and student startups make their case at the 2018 New Venture Competition Finals
Re: Jodi Gernon (MBA 1991)
by Jennifer Myers


The 2018 New Venture Competition started last fall with 360 teams. By Wednesday, April 18, just 12 teams—four finalists from each of the Alumni, Student Social Enterprise, and Student Business tracks—were left standing, vying for $315,000 in prize money and in-kind prizes. The event is hosted by the Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship in partnership with HBS Alumni Clubs and Associations.

In the alumni category, 164 teams had battled it out in 11 regional competitions around the globe. On Wednesday night, in a theatrically lit Shad Hall, the remaining teams made their final pitches. Contestants fidgeted, going over their pitches one last time in their heads as they waited to take the stage. The digital clock in the corner of the big screen on the stage kept time—90 seconds, diving into the red for some as they rushed to squeeze in a few last salient points.

Eric Gastfriend (MBA 2015) appeared nervous yet confident as he took the stage and began his pitch to the energized audience of more than 500. Gastfriend spoke of a friend, Anna, who was addicted to opioids. He watched her struggle with the indignity of recovery as she was forced to take urine tests with the bathroom door open, her father standing outside. “There has to be a better way to support recovery,” he said.

Gastfriend partnered with his own father, Dr. David Gastfriend, an expert in addiction psychiatry, to create DynamiCare Health, a digital platform for monitoring and rewarding recovery from addiction. The app allows the user to participate in random drugs tests using a thumbprint, or breath or saliva tests via video. “No more degrading urine tests,” Gastfriend says. Patients are rewarded for meeting goals and staying on the program through debit cards, which are blocked from use at bars, liquor stores, or for cash withdrawals.

Others finalists included George Hessler (MBA 1985), who pitched Magma Trading, a new kind of stock market for large block trades that he’s dubbed “the Costco of trading.” Aiden Feng (MBA 2016) introduced the crowd to Medumo, a service that delivers easy-to-understand instructions to patients via text or email in an effort to eliminate misunderstandings and no-shows to appointments and procedures. Benoit Dupont (PLDA 20, 2016) charmed the crowd with his pitch for WeMaintain, a business-to-business platform for elevator maintenance. “Together we can rise by lifting others,” he quipped, eliciting roars from the crowd.

The student categories included a wide range of promising startups from a low-cost portable ventilator for use in developing countries to a scentless, non-sticky, non-toxic insect repellent that lasts up to 72 hours. Andrew Rothaus (MBA 2018) and Dr. Abraar Karan took the stage in custom-made ties adorned with cartoon mosquitos. With Hour 72+, they hope to minimize deaths caused by mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria, dengue fever, and zika virus. “For us it’s exciting, but for mosquitos it’s a buzz kill,” said Kar.

Shaheer Piracha told of having to manually ventilate a friend’s 2-year-old son with a bag-valve mask for two days in a Pakistani hospital because of a shortage of ventilators. The boy, Bilan, died. Shaheer and his partners, Hamza Khan (MBA 2019) and Sanchay Gupta (Harvard Medical School 2021), created Umbulizer, a portable ventilator that costs 10 percent of a typical machine, while maintaining the same capabilities.

Though the NVC has undergone many changes over its 21-year run, Professor Thomas Eisenmann said one aspect has been a constant: “a commitment to learning,” not just for the teams with the greatest potential, but for all willing to take the risk to start something new and compete. “It is remarkable to me what kind of progress they can make,” he said.

Eventually a booming voice instructed the audience it was time to participate in the online voting for the crowd favorite. “Believer” by Imagine Dragons played, while 500 people stared at their smartphones, mulling their favorite pitch. Once the scores from the judges were tallied and the crowd chose their favorites, the winners were announced.

Alumni Winners

Student Business Track Winners

  • Dubilier $75,000 grand prize: Hour 72+
  • Satchu-Burgstone $25,000 runner-up: Alpha Vantage
  • Crowd Favorite: Hour 72+

Student Social Enterprise Track Winners

  • Peter M. Sacerdote $75,000 Grand Prize: Umbulizer
  • Peter M. Sacerdote $25,000 Runner-Up: Neptune
  • $5,000 Crowd Favorite: Umbulizer

Since the competition’s inception in 1997, $2,340,000 in cash prizes has helped launch new ventures by students and alumni, said Jodi Gernon (MBA 1991), director of the Rock Center for Entrepreneurship. The competition shows “why HBS has come to be known as the number one school for entrepreneurship.”

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 2015, Section D
follow @egastfriend
Class of MBA 1985, Section C
Class of MBA 2016, Section H
Class of PLDA 20

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