On May 15th Horn Group went to Columbia University to attend the 2nd Annual East Coast Venture Challenge, hosted by DFJ Gotham Ventures and Draper Fisher Jurvetson. Teams made up of students from Ivy League schools, NYU and Carnegie Mellon began arriving at 8:30am to present their business plans to DFJ executives during the all-day event. The event was also open to the public, attracting an eclectic mix of entrepreneurs, sponsors and investors. This mixture made the networking breaks particularly interesting with the teams competing for the investors’ attention off-stage as fiercely as they did on.
At 4pm the judges went to deliberate and Noah Gellman from AlwaysOn took the stage to interview Michael Dwork, founder of VerTerra. Michael won last year’s competition with his plan to manufacture biodegradable, disposable dinnerware made from three layers leaves gathered from farms in the Pacific Islands. During the meal breaks attendees had the chance to “field test” his plates and the results were positive. Most of the diners admired the modern design and the variety of shapes available. Others were pleased by how well the sturdy dinnerware coordinated with the silverware and cloth napkins. In fact, the majority of the unused plates were carried out by attendees since they knew that these were something you have to see to believe (I think it’s safe to say that Michael didn’t factor this into his plan to reduce waste).
At 5pm, the winner was announced and the Widetronix team from Cornell took the stage to collect the $250,000 grand prize. They plan to put the money towards the manufacture of pacemaker batteries with a 25 year life-span. Batteries currently in use only last about 4-7 years.
The judges had a very tough call to make; the ideas presented by the students during the course of the day were highly sophisticated, which is rather surprising when you consider that most came out of school projects. It will be interesting to see how many of these plans will actually grow into full-fledged companies.