Innovation Challenge Awards Seed Funding to Seven UMass Ventures

Seed pitch participants
From left: Birton Cowden, Berthiaume Center associate director; Bill Wooldridge, Berthiaume Center managing director; Ajay Kumar, team GeneRisk, Ph.D. candidate in electrical and computer engineering, and Charles Johnson, Berthiaume Center associate director. Photo by Amy Hambrecht

Judges awarded $10,500 in seed funding recently to seven ventures that showed the most promise for future development during the Seed Pitch Competition part of the UMass Innovation Challenge.

Each venture presented their pitch in a closed-door session with five minutes to demonstrate the feasibility of the idea, a strong team, and the need for funding. This was followed by a 10-minute “Shark Tank” style Q & A round.

GeneRisk, a gene mapping and analytics platform, took home the biggest award, $5,000. Other winners included Glow, a network diagnostic tool, receiving $2,000. The Physics Connection, an interactive platform to teach physics, and Swivel, a social media consultancy for small and new businesses, received $1,000 each. All 12 competing teams were eligible for some level of funding, with an event cap of $15,000.

Innovation Challenge sponsor and Seed Pitch judge Steve Luby, a UMass alumnus and Boston-based entrepreneur, said, “I was impressed with the diversity of novel ideas I heard while judging the competition – ranging from social media to low-cost healthcare to network operating systems. I'm also delighted to see the energy and enthusiasm of all of the participants."

Some of the competitors developed ideas they had pitched at Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship events earlier in the semester. “We did the MinutePitch event in October, and that was helpful,” said Mike Vinik ’17 of Snap-A-Deal.  “We had to really prepare for this. The judges were supportive and gave us a number of good ideas which we can now apply moving forward.”

In it’s eleventh year, the UMass Innovation Challenge is now hosted by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship at the Isenberg School of Management.

“The Innovation Challenge was created to reward UMass students and young alumni who want to pursue a novel business idea and develop it into a marketable product,” said Berthiaume Center Managing Director Bill Wooldridge. “We have the funding, resources and connections to help UMass ventures transition from the idea stage to a funded venture.”

The challenge continues this spring with a semi-final round in March and a final event in April, where up to $50,000 will be awarded.