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Meet the winners of the 2018 NYU $300k Entrepreneurs Challenge

202 young, hopeful entrepreneurs threw their hats into the ring for the 2018 edition of the $300k Entrepreneurs Challenge. Of those 202, only 12 made the grade. It took a special caliber of candidate to impress the panel of judges, who were steeped in expertise in the areas of technology and social impact startups.

More than just cash was at stake, since finalists also received coaching in the form of an accelerator program, valued at tens of thousands of dollars, which helped each one fine-tune its business plan and investor pitch before the final round of judging occurred. For those that still want those business skills developed regardless of whether or not they win this prestigious prize, they should consider attending negotiation training. Having guided sessions on how to be a better negotiator might improve your chances for next year. Through the Entrepreneurs Challenge, the young entrepreneurs learned the importance of strategy development, execution and how this can ensure a successful business. Company formation, business development and goals are all obvious key components to any developing startup, however, many fail here because they don’t have a clear vision of their business plan – this is fundamental for any company to survive.

Below, we talk to the four grand prize winners, who split cash prizes across the three categories of the $300k Entrepreneurs Challenge: New Ventures, Social Ventures and Technology Ventures.

Winners of the $100,000 Technology Venture Prize, sponsored by the NYU Innovation Venture Fund

With sustainability and efficiency in mind, Sunthetics has developed a cost-effective, solar-powered means of production for nylon manufacturers, helping businesses to face ever-growing demand and develop innovative new applications for the material.

Tell us about your biggest takeaway from the Accelerator Program.

While we started with a big vision to change the chemical industry, the $300k Challenge helped us narrow down on a concrete and realistic implementation path. The deadlines, the coaches and the deliverables all contributed to our growth as a company, which would have been much slower and lower quality had we not participated in this competition.

What other startups are you keeping your eye on?

We love Food Period! We got to know them during the J-Term Startup Sprint and have been amazed by their achievements and creativity ever since. They are both ridiculously talented and resourceful, always ready to help, and have built an incredible company. Girl power!!

How do you plan to spend the money?

The money will go towards paying one of the co-founders to dedicate full time to Sunthetics, technology development to scale-up our current production and travel to solidify our partnerships!

What does the future hold for Sunthetics?

Since we bring cost and efficiency improvements to the table, our production process will be very desirable in the industry. Given that we offer these improvements only when implementing solar energy, we can simultaneously make the industry more sustainable and remove harmful emissions from the planet.

Winners of the $75,000 Social Venture Competition

This company makes use of Artificial Intelligence to attack implicit biases in the workplace by prompting users to think deeply when expressing thoughts about others in writing, starting by targeting company performance reviews.

Tell us about your biggest takeaway from the Accelerator Program.

The boot camps provided guidance on crafting a compelling business plan. Alongside this, the program provided coaching, mentoring and workshops. For us, the greatest value was the coaching sessions. The coaches pushed us to think clearly about every aspect of the idea, helping us to pivot away from a vague concept towards something that is deliverable, compelling and attractive to customers.

What other startups are you keeping your eye on?

One of our shining stars is Maria Scott, CEO of Taina.Tech. She left a legal career and springboarded from a Masters degree to entrepreneurship with her RegTech startup. Her advice and support have been a real help.

How do you plan to spend the money?

We have traction building with some diversity and leadership specialist organizations that are interested in making FairFrame part of their diversity service. Plus, we have several large organizations waiting for us to launch our product. The grand prize money will help us to bring on some additional talent, and put in place a robust and clean corporate/asset structure.

What does the future hold for FairFrame?

FairFrame’s objective analysis and detailed feedback mean that everyone can become consciously great at “diversity thinking.” FairFrame’s approach of combining deep data insights and also a neurological nudge will help our users to communicate to others: “you belong here.”

Winners of $75,000 out of the total $100,000 Rennert Prize, for the New Venture Competition

Food Period helps women have great periods, naturally. They design functional food products to support and improve womens’ menstrual cycles.

Tell us about your biggest takeaway from the Accelerator Program.

The two aspects of the accelerator that were invaluable were the boot camps and the office hours with experts. We were either being led through a strategy session or having a one-on-one consulting session with experts on design, marketing, legal and sales. They charge clients hundreds of dollars an hour for the kind of feedback they offered us for free.

What other startups are you keeping your eye on?

We love watching startups whose customers have organically rallied around the brand or product. The period tracking app, Clue, is a great example of that in the femtech space. At Food Period, we want to offer women a solution, an experience and a community that they didn’t previously have. We are also fascinated by the educational opportunities that being in a startup can offer. For example, as this article on the Upskilled website explains, joining a startup can often be a prime opportunity to explore further education.

How do you plan to spend the money?

One of our biggest challenges is growing our e-Commerce business, while scaling the food-manufacturing arm of Food Period. We will spend the winnings growing these two simultaneously.

What does the future hold for Food Period?

Our functional food products are just the beginning. Food Period is committed to making natural solutions for women’s health challenges more easily accessible.

Winners of $25,000 out of the total $100,000 Rennert Prize, for the New Venture Competition

Think Yelp or Rotten Tomatoes, but for the packaged food industry; a peer-to-peer ratings and review site that makes it easy for people to figure out the best tasting foods to fit their diets, all the while building the world’s only user-generated taste database.

Tell us about your biggest takeaway from the Accelerator Program.

The $300K Entrepreneurs Challenge forced us to get moving on our idea. Every customer interview, every spreadsheet and every sleepless night was worth it to bring our business to life, and we have the New Venture Competition to thank for getting us to where we are today.

What other startups are you keeping your eye on?

One of our startup inspirations is a company co-founded by our NYU Stern LIO professor, Dr. Anat Lechner, called HueGroup. HueGroup is the world’s color intelligence leader, providing analytics to inspire, inform, and substantiate color decisions. We love how Professor Lechner is building a data driven resource for everything color, just as we aim to do for taste.

How do you plan to spend the money?

The financial support will be put towards helping us accomplish our two main goals for the summer: site development and user acquisition.

What’s the future look like for Grocer8?

Our vision is for Grocer8 to be the trusted name in food quality for consumers, and the essential resource for all things taste for companies. We’re taking advantage of the seismic shift in the food industry right now by creating a platform that empowers consumers to make their lives easier, healthier and more enjoyable.

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