On April 12, Wescoe student Josh Ajamu ‘20 won the ninth annual Innovation Challenge with his web platform Ithaca, which aims to make more lawyers accessible to refugees.
Ajamu represented one of eight student-created businesses who, with the help of an alumni mentor, delivered six minute pitches in the Seegers Union Event Space to three entrepreneurial judges as part of the “Shark-tank”-like competition called The Innovation Challenge. Ajamu was the first to present, then had to leave early to attend another event.
“I was not expecting to win,” said Ajamu. “It was the last thing on my mind. I presented because I wanted to pitch the idea to as many people as possible, and potentially find a computer science and developer whom might be interested in joining me in making Ithaca a reality.”
Second place and $500 went to Ana, a focusing software for phones, laptops, and Apple Watches created by Tom Littrell ‘18, Laura Styer ‘20, Patrick Kantner ‘20 and Kendrick Weingast ‘20. The “anti-app” creates three customized home screens that display select apps that help the user focus, go, or relax.
“We wanted a way to self-discipline and use the phone as a tool instead of just getting lost in it,” said Littrell.
The group was also entirely non-business majors, which they viewed as a strength.
“One of the cool things about us is that we all come from humanities backgrounds, none of us are business people,” said Weingast, who is a Theatre major with an Acting and Directing concentration.
“We thought that would be our unique angle in the competition,” Littrell, a Media and Communication major and Religion Studies minor, added. Kantner and Styer are Neuroscience and Philosophy majors.
Third place and $250 winner was Retro Renovations, created by Jordan Curtis ‘21. Curtis 3D printed models of his product, called extra life adaptors, which aid in saving progress on retro games.
“I haven’t slept over the last week. It took me nine hours to make that spinning logo. Three hours to make that logo, six hours to figure out how to make it spin. Countless visits with people, rewriting scripts and contacting Gamestop, creating the powerpoint. It took a lot. I’m proud that I made it this far,” said Curtis.
“I was surprised, I’m honored,” said Curtis “I’m really just glad that all the hard work that I’ve put in and the people who have helped me paid off.”
The audience favorite was Party DJ, a music playlist app created by Shana Joseph ‘18 and Michael Kovach ‘18, both Computer Science majors.
Marie Grace Imanariyo ‘20 presented African Rockit, a business where individuals order African-made attire through an app and college-aged ambassadors bring the items to the U.S. Although she’s skeptical about launching her company on her own, Imanariyo wants to pursue the project.
“I keep thinking about it since I’ve been part of the competition.” said Imanariyo. “I believe that I’m not going to let the idea die.”
Jake Solomon ‘18 and David Ossa ‘18 pitched Capture, a social media feed that connects film companies with trending, independent filmmakers.
The idea for the Let’s Party app, pitched by James Kavanagh ‘21 and Victor Jacobs ‘21, came about when Jacobs hosted an open party that no one attended. The application would connect party hosts to students looking for parties, and include discounts from Uber and an Emergency Medical Services button to encourage safe partying.
College Crate, a subscription box service with a twist, was presented by Brooke Greenberg ‘21 and her roommate Lilly Shuman ‘21, both wearing matching fluorescent green shirts with their logo. Read more about Greenberg’s experiences in Opinion.
Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship Program Rita Chesterton, who hosted the event and aided most of the students in writing and practicing their pitches, complimented students’ dedication.
“We had probably the widest range of ideas that we had, as well as the largest group of students in a few years,” said Chesterton. “There are quite a few ideas too where the students had created the app or moved forward in starting the company, and so it’s great to see that progress from something that is an idea to something that is real.”
“[The Innovation Challenge] is an opportunity for anyone with an idea. Ideas can come from anywhere. People see a problem and want to create a solution,” said Chesterton. “What entrepreneurship does is it just gives you those tools to help make that process easier, and to help you learn from the successes and failures of others.”
The Innovation Challenge was started in 2010 and is a product of both the Innovation and Entrepreneurial program and the Office of Alumni affairs. The competition is held every spring.