Yale News

From Wednesday to Friday, community leaders, investors, practitioners and Yale student entrepreneurs came together to discuss and foster innovation at Startup Yale — an annual event organized to celebrate the innovations of Yale students.

Startup Yale was organized by the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale, the Center for Business and the Environment, and Innovate Health Yale, with sponsorships from the School of Management, other Yale organizations and private companies. At the culmination of the event, four student-led ventures received a total of $100,000 in prizes. Student-led groups were eligible for four different prizes — the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize, the Rothberg Catalyzer Prize, the Thorne prize for Social Innovation in Public Health or Education and the Miller Prize. On Friday, each finalist group delivered a pitch before a panel of judges comprising both Yale faculty members and entrepreneurs in relevant fields.

“We … had a number of talks and panels to bring out the entrepreneurial community and get them to celebrate and watch these pitches. The student teams had the most revolutionary, wild ideas,” said Tsai CITY Events Manager Abigail Winslow.

Apart from the student pitches, which she described as the “highlight” of Startup Yale, Winslow said that one of the panels — named “I didn’t get it, but I did it anyway” — was valuable and insightful. The panel brought in three entrepreneurs — Yale alumni who had previously applied but did not win Yale entrepreneurship prizes — to talk about how they eventually found success. She said that the panel provided valuable insights into the lives and minds of entrepreneurs in young startup companies.

Winslow praised the caliber of the finalist groups’ pitches. She added that the progress of some of the finalist teams, which had been involved with Tsai CITY since their inception, gave her “a sense of pride” in what Tsai CITY and their partners are doing to foster innovation at Yale. She called on the Yale community to learn more about the “revolutionary” pitches made by not just the winner but by all the finalist teams. 

Russell Heller ’19, a member of the Green Gear Supply Company, which won the $25,000 Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize, told the News that his team was humbled and “more motivated than ever” after receiving the prize. The Green Gear Supply Company pitched a business plan to tackle plastic and carbon-dioxide pollution by producing an original sugar-based poncho with a carbon-negative lifecycle, meaning that it removes more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than it was responsible for creating. 

“It was great to see how excited the judges were about the ponchos and our vision. A lot of hard work went into this, so it was great to receive that validation especially from such an accomplished group of judges,” Heller said. “We are also now more confident in Green Gear’s ability to scale since the Sabin Prize has provided us the funds to cover many necessary costs that were formerly a barrier to our expansion.”

EdSightful, which won the $25,000 Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Public Health or Education, is an “education technology solution” that helps schools and districts more effectively manage their institutional coaching, teacher observation and teacher evaluation programs by giving users a tool to conveniently collect and visualize data in an easy-to-use dashboard.

Chris Cutrona SOM ’19, the CEO of EdSightful, said he was excited to have received the prize because it will directly help expand the company’s impact. Cutrona, who has been working on the project for almost two years, initially conducted customer discovery to learn about the problems school districts face when implementing instructional coaching and teacher evaluation programs during the program’s first year. Then, this past year, he focused on developing a sales strategy, creating prototypes and collecting feedback on the tool, he said. He added that his company is still in the “early stages” and is still looking for schools and schools districts that could benefit from its tool. 

The $25,000 Miller Prize for the best student-led venture with a tech or tech-enabled service startup was awarded to PREPARED, a one-touch mobile alert system that allows faculty members throughout a school to respond to emergency situations in an instantaneous manner. The team will use the money to invest in technology required to develop their app further and to conduct preliminary trials in schools, according to team member Daniel James ’19.

Laura Rodriguez, the managing director of venture capital firm Bulldog Innovation Group who judged the Miller Prize, said that the judging panel decided to award the prize to PREPARED because its members thought that that group would be able to utilize the $25,000 cash prize in a way that would bring about the most impact.

The Rothberg Catalyzer Prize — a $15,000 cash prize awarded to a venture offering a technical solution to a medical challenge — was awarded to OnTrack Rehab, a three-part hardware consisting of a virtual reality headset, a physical balance board and an online cloud platform, which aims to help doctors better diagnose and rehabilitate patients. 

Ayumi Sudo |ayumi.sudo@yale.edu