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Introducing A Selection of This Year’s $300K Challenge Finalists7 min read

Four finalist teams talk about their passion, sharing how the team came together and their favorite moments.

CariedAway is keeping kids cavity-free through preventive care treatments performed conveniently in school settings rather than at dentists’ offices.

Left to right: Richard Niederman and Pratik Sourav (not pictured: Habib Benzian and Anthony Donadia)
Photo credit: Courtesy of W.R. Berkley Innovation Labs

What idea are you bringing to the $300K Challenge?  

CariedAway brings care to kids in schools. Specifically, we bring cavity prevention to kids. Cavities are a preventable bacterial infection, technically called “caries.” Hence the name CariedAway.

Care through our services takes less than 15 minutes twice per year and reduces cavities by almost 80 percent. Best of all, there are no shots, no drilling and no pain. Parents do not leave work and children do not leave the school.

Cavities are a silent epidemic. They affect more than 50 percent of children and more than 90 percent of adults. Concretely, children with untreated cavities have increased school absence along with poor school achievement. Therefore, we have a triple bottom line: health, school achievement and profitability.

How did you meet and decide to work together as a team? 

We met while solving the problem of caries, coming from different perspectives. Habib and Rick met when asked to prepare a review on caries for the World Bank’s publication Disease Control Priorities for Developing Countries

Rick and Pratik met when Pratik was an MPH student modeling caries progression in multiple countries. We asked Zara and Gina Niederman, who are entrepreneurs, to guide us in our financial modeling.

What’s a stand-out memory from the competition?

There are three moments: just before and just after the semi-final presentation, and  the following morning.

Just before presenting, I had a rush of anxiety — I was sweating, my stomach was churning and I was thinking: “Why am I doing this?” Upon learning that we were in the finals, there was an even bigger rush of anxiety — “How will we do this?” This was all resolved after a night’s sleep, after which I thought that this is what I’ve always wanted to do.

CurbGenie is helping air travelers get to their gates on time by arming them with an app that facilitates hassle-free curbside rental car returns.

Left to right: Jonathan Descartes and Colin Horsford
Photo credit: Courtesy of W.R. Berkley Innovation Labs

What idea are you bringing to the $300K Challenge?  CurbGenie provides curbside rental car returns at the airport. The service allows travelers to skip the pain of going to another terminal in order to return their rental. Travelers save up to 60 minutes and never have to get on another shuttle bus or train ever again.

How did you meet and decide to work together as a team? 

We are longtime friends of 20 years and have always shared ideas. When this idea came up, we knew we were on to something. Everyone we spoke to just got it [right way] because they’ve experienced this pain point at some time in their life.

What’s a stand-out memory from the competition?

We were asked many difficult questions during our semi-finals pitch and we almost lost confidence. Hearing our names being called for the finals left us elated.

SeaStraws is making our oceans cleaner and safer by producing disposable, compostable alternatives to plastic straws.

Left to right: Echo Chen, Antonio DiMeglio, Nisarg Patel and Sophie Kennedy
Photo credit: Courtesy of W.R. Berkley Innovation Labs

What idea are you bringing to the $300K Challenge? is a sustainable products company, providing nationwide distributors and individual restaurants with disposable, single-use paper products that minimize environmental impact. Our mission is to transform hospitality through sustainable alternatives. 

How did you meet and decide to work together as a team? 

Antonio and Sophie met while studying abroad in Florence. They were in the same taxi cab coming from the Florence airport to their dorm on their first flight into the city! 

They also did work with the EU in Brussels together, presenting climate change and migration research to representatives of the European Council. Caitlyn was also at NYU Florence, but Antonio had met Caitlyn and Nisarg at their first semester of college at Stern.

What’s a stand-out memory from the competition?

Before the $300K Challenge, we were so focused on making sustainable straws accessible and getting them to businesses that we never measured our impact. 

A large part of the $300K Challenge is measuring a company’s impact. Our team got together and tracked SeaStraws back to our first sale in May 2018. Since then, we’ve sold over 3.5 million paper straws which has replaced 3,149 pounds of plastic. 

An average beluga whale for instance weighs 3,000 pounds. This exercise has been extremely rewarding for our team as it helps us communicate the positive impact SeaStraws is having on our planet and people!

Verge.Capital is enabling EU citizens to carry their credit scores across the EU freely as the pan-European credit score provider.

Left to right: Ioanna Stanegloudi and Yiannis Giokas 
Photo credit: Courtesy of W.R. Berkley Innovation Labs

What idea are you bringing to the $300K Challenge?  

Verge.Capital will be a pan-European credit scoring provider that enables consumer and financial institutions to universally assess the creditworthiness of individuals by utilizing machine learning on top of open banking APIs.

There are 510 million adults across the EU who do not have a common credit score in order to interact with financial institutions, either within the borders or abroad. This problem was already solved long ago in the US. 

Young people, self-employed individuals and expats face challenges getting credit facilities and financial institutions to rely on credit profile snapshots to make decisions. This has left more that 58 million Europeans with no access to any credit facility whatsoever.

How did you meet and decide to work together as a team? 

Yiannis and Ioanna have known each other since 2007. Yiannis was a full-time MBA student and Ioanna a part-time one. They have been working together on this project since 2017.

Yiannis and Ioanna decided to work on this project because they are driven by personal stories. Yiannis was actually challenged when he first moved to the US and he could not get a credit card. 

He was a stranger to the financial system and this made him look for ways to solve this issue. On the other hand, Ioanna has been working for banks and management consulting firms that assist banks in managing risk and she was baffled that no one up has ever made any step towards streamlining consumer credit. Thus, when Yiannis asked for her help, she agreed that “it was about time.”  

What’s a stand-out memory from the competition?

Our advancing to the semi-finals was super exciting, but advancing to the finals made things amazingly real! The feedback and traction we gained at the Venture Showcase was overwhelming.

Thank you teams for the great interviews and best of luck as you grow your business!

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