Five teams walk away from the McGinnis Venture Competition with investments

Big data, healthcare innovation and virtual online advertising platforms captured the spotlight at this year’s McGinnis Venture Competition, which wrapped up the last of its three rounds and honored five winning teams on March 22, 2016.

Of the 31 teams that started the competition in January, only nine made it to the final round, where they pitched their young companies to a panel of judges in the hopes of winning a piece of the $60,000 investment from Gerald McGinnis, chairman, CEO and founder of Respironics, Inc. – who helped to inaugurate this Carnegie Mellon University competition in 2004.

mcginnis jpgThe judges were so impressed with the graduate division that they decided to declare a tie for the No. 1 spot, awarding two teams $20,000 each, rather than giving a first-place team $25,000 and a second-place team $15,000.

“I began testing out the idea for Blast Radius after taking Dave Mawhinney’s entrepreneurship class, and the McGinnis Competition allowed me to build a team,” said Alison Alvarez, MBA ’16 and leader of one of the first-place teams, Blast Radius.

“We were fortunate to discover that we had real chemistry as a team … we built a functioning prototype in less than three months.”

The Blast Radius team – which consisted of Alvarez, JiaJia Zhang, MBA ’17, Derek Gregg, MBA ’17, Tomer Borenstein, E ’15,  and Ming Xing, A ’16 – created a series of easy-to-use, inexpensive tools for delivering big-data insights by using maps generated to create visualizations that are accessible, personal and explorable.

Blast Radius shared the top spot with Forest Devices, a healthcare startup founded by Matt Kesinger, HNZ ’16, Dan Willis and Steve Morrow. Forest Devices provides a non-invasive, diagnostic technology that can identify stroke in ambulances, nursing homes and other pre-hospital environments.

“It was great being able to pitch alongside such an exciting group of teams, and the networking opportunities were wonderful,” said Kesinger.

In the undergraduate division, the first place award of a $4,000 grant was given to the location-based advertising app, flagtag. “We're really excited about flagtag's potential to bring millennial consumers great deals… we've found that the way we source deals on maps, also adding elements of gamification, really resonates with our users,” said Blake Chasen, BSBA ’16 and leader of the flagtag team.

Together with Jesse Mendelson, BSBA ’16, Matt Hillman, DC ’17, Omar El-Sadany, CS ’16, and Ian Go, CMU ’16, Chasen created location-based advertising through an interactive map that motivates users to “capture” virtual flags in targeted places.

“The opportunity to pitch a company for potential monetary prizes might be what sticks out to people about McGinnis, but there are many awesome things about the competition,” Chasen added. “We had great interactions with the judges and coaches throughout the first two rounds, and our business is better today because of it.”

The second place graduate team and winner of $10,000 was Micetro, an online marketplace that uses real money to buy and sell digital game goods for the PC game “CounterStrike: Global Offensive” (CS:GO). The Micetro team included Thomas Shelley, HNZ ’16, John McCutcheon and Nathan Hefner.

The undergraduate award for second place went to the e.e. books team, who walked away with a $2,500 grant. e.e. books, founded by Eleanor Haglund, DC ’16, and Melody Ting, CMU ’18, is developing software that enables writers to easily create media-rich e-books for electronic reading devices.

In addition to McGinnis, key sponsors for the 2016 competition were, Innovation Works and Maiello Brungo and Maiello Attorneys at Law. The competition was hosted by the Carnegie Mellon Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The McGinnis Venture Competition is comprised of three rounds and is open to all Carnegie Mellon undergraduate and graduate students and is intended to spotlight and advance the commercialization of student-created, -managed and -owned ventures. Non-Carnegie Mellon students may participate as members of a team, as described in the competition’s eligibility details; however, Carnegie Mellon students must deliver the majority of the team’s presentation and must serve as CEO, CTO or COO of each venture.

View more photos from the McGinnis Venture Competition