Student Startups Earn Investments in McGinnis Venture Competition-CMU News - Carnegie Mellon University

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Student Startups Earn Investments in McGinnis Venture Competition

By Katelyn Howard

Image of Choitek robot
John Choi, a senior in computer science and arts, demonstrates an educational robotics platform created by his company, Choitek. Choi was among the finalists for this year's McGinnis Venture Competition.

Startups RoBotany and Inventory Connection took the top spots in Carnegie Mellon University's 2017 McGinnis Venture Competition among student entrepreneurs.

"The McGinnis Venture Competition is the culmination of the entrepreneurship training we provide students at Carnegie Mellon," said Dave Mawhinney, executive director of the Swartz Center for Entrepreneurship.

"They have learned the frameworks in courses and workshops. They have practiced their skills in our incubator and on our treks," Mawhinney said. "The McGinnis Venture Competition is an opportunity to bring it all together and showcase their company's potential to real-world investors."

RoBotany received a $25,000 investment for taking first in the graduate student track. The company, founded by Austin Webb and Daniel Seim, two master's of business administration students, creates robotic indoor vertical farming using automated robotics and software analytics to transform modern agriculture. The company has leveraged the school's alumni network to raise over $700,000, was accepted into the Project Olympus incubator and opened a location on Pittsburgh's South Side.

"RoBotany has been very fortunate to have the opportunity to plug into Carnegie Mellon and the Tepper School's entrepreneurial ecosystem," Webb said. "I have been able to marry my education at the Tepper School with the growth and progress of RoBotany, allowing for immediate application of my learning in an experiential learning setting."

Inventory Connection, which provides sales representatives with real-time inventory and point of sale data allowing them to stock their supermarket's shelves better, won the undergraduate division first-place prize of $4,000. The startup is led by Kerolos Mikaeil, a senior majoring in electrical and computer engineering and engineering and public policy.

The McGinnis Venture Competition is made possible by a generous endowment from Gerald E. McGinnis, chairman, CEO and founder of Respironics, Inc. The 2017 competition  was sponsored by Walmart Tech.

"Competitions like this are important because of the awareness and networking opportunities that they provide," Webb said. "Regardless of the results, the competition opens doors across the board, from funding to partnerships to hiring."

This year's winners were part of an opening round of competition that included 34 teams. Twelve teams were selected for the finals. The winners are:

Graduate Track

  • First Place: RoBotany is a robotic indoor vertical farming using automated robotics and software analytics to transform modern agriculture. Team includes Austin Webb, Austin Lawrence, Daniel Seim and Brac Webb.
  • Second Place: Teratonix converts ambient radio waves to electricity and provides a maintenance-free replacement for batteries in low-power connected devices. Team includes Ivan Pistsov and Yi Luo.
  • Third Place: 101 builds active learning tools that promote student engagement in college STEM courses. Team includes Justin Weinberg and Igor Belyayev.

Undergraduate Track

  • First Place: Inventory Connection provides direct store delivery sales representatives with real-time inventory and point of sale data allowing them to stock their supermarket's shelves better. Team includes Kerolos Mikaeil and John Lipari.
  • Second Place: Juvi is an online marketplace for senior homes. Team includes Stella Han and Jason Huang.