By Mack Hogan, news correspondent
On Friday, nine startups created by university students participated in a battle of ideas at the third annual Beantown Throwdown. Abigael Titcomb, a Northeastern University (NU) mechanical engineering third year and founder of Knightly, fought her way to a third–place finish against teams from eight nearby universities.
“I love being able to express my passion for this, but it’s terrifying to have to put it all out there,” Titcomb said about Knightly, an app that helps connect students to campus safety services.
The Beantown Throwdown, part of HUBweek, is sponsored by a variety of businesses and venture-capital firms. One startup group from each participating university is given three minutes to pitch to the audience and answer any questions. After the pitch session, the representatives of the startups have 20 minutes to mingle with and sway investors. All attendees are given $1,750 to “invest” in the startup they like the most and winners are selected based on who gets the most investment.
“I’m always interested in the innovation culture at these events,” Dileep Monie, an audience member from Harvard University, said.
The first-, second- and third-place teams received legal services, shared office space from Coalition/DTX and memberships to the MIT Enterprise Forum for a year.
Students from Babson College, Berklee College of Music, Boston College, Boston University, Harvard, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, NU, University of Massachusetts Lowell and Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT) all pitched their ideas for startups, products and apps.
The event is also a networking opportunity, with time before and after the competition for participants to talk with potential investors. Before the pitches, a four-person panel took the stage to give advice on growing small businesses.
“We’re super passionate about student entrepreneurship because that’s where we started,” Tom Coburn, CEO of Jebbit and a member of the panel, said.
Coburn, who dropped out of Boston College to pursue Jebbit – a marketing venture – appeared alongside Scott Kirsner of The Boston Globe’s Innovation Economy column; Dip Patel of Ecovent, the first winner of the Beantown Throwdown; and Katie Rae, managing director of the venture capitalist company Project 11. While all of them offered different advice, the most important thing for competitors, according to the panel, is accepting feedback and showing investors a working prototype.
“You’re going to have to listen to a lot of criticism to make it work, even if it’s a good idea,” Patel said. “But even LeBron gets coached.”
PICCPerfect, founded by students from Babson College, took home the grand prize. PICCPerfect offers functional and stylish medical accessories, Emily Levy, founder and CEO, said.
The Babson junior suffered from Lyme disease, which requires treatment through a peripherally inserted central catheter, or PICC line. Most patients currently cover up the treatment site with a cut-up sock, but Levy’s company aims to provide sleeves with stylish designs and direct access to the PICC line.
“There are a lot of products out there for people with PICC lines, which are either functional or stylish, not both,” Levy said.
BARS, a project created by students from WIT, took second place. Designed to rehabilitate those who experience muscle loss or other ailments which reduce mobility, BARS uses a flotation device that is calibrated by a built-in computer. The computer adjusts buoyancy to give users assistance while still developing muscle groups.
“BARS is 100 percent free to patients, as it’s covered by Medicare,” Jace P. Valls, co-founder of BARS and pre-med student at WIT, said.
Knightly, Northeastern’s contribution to the competition, is a campus safety tool that helps students to access emergency services by flipping a switch on a small fob or by using an app. Universities can customize the fobs to carry the school’s logo or colors and the device is designed to be attached to student IDs.
“This works when your phone is dead, which is different than competing systems,” Titcomb said.
Harvard student Scott Jacobson also showed off his project, DoneGood. The app is a buyer’s guide to food, telling consumers whether merchants source materials locally, use organic ingredients and pay fair wages to employees. This functionality exists alongside the ability to review restaurants, leading Jacobson to bill the app as “Yelp with a conscience.”
“We aggregate information from reliable sources, and you get all of the reviews of Yelp or Foursquare on top of information about where the food is sourced and how they treat employees,” Jacobson said.
Many venture capitalists were in attendance, looking for their next projects. Like many startup events, the main goal of the Beantown Throwdown is exposure. Sponsors like Rough Draft Ventures and Coalition use the event to find future investments.
“The quality of startups presented was great,” Kirsner said. “This event is becoming the March Madness of college startups.”
Photo by Scotty Schenck