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Challenge: Create a Startup in Six Weeks

For the more than 50 students who gathered at the newly renovated YU Innovation Lab, the evening of Feb. 21 was the start of something big.  From across YU, budding entrepreneurs, ambitious innovators and fledgling founders met in the hope that their startup ideas would spark fire.

Why such excitement? They are all participants in the first-ever YU Innovation Challenge. On the forefront of “learning by doing,” the Challenge is the place where soon-to-be entrepreneurs can flex their muscles. Organized by the YU Innovation Lab and the Shevet Glaubach Center, the six-week intensive includes a series of three workshops culminating in a Pitch Night where student teams present their ideas to a panel of industry experts and to an audience of potential investors. The winner will be awarded a grand prize from the YU Innovation Lab and the Shevet Glaubach Center.

But more than a competition for the best startup idea, the Challenge immerses students in the fundamentals at the heart of every founder’s success: idea generation and development, collaboration, networking and storytelling/pitching.

Serving as the kick-off, the February 21 workshop, “Startup Ideation,” answered the big questions confronting anyone who has ever considered creating a business from the ground up: Where should I begin? If I don’t already have a great idea, how do I generate one? Should my startup focus on a problem or a solution?

“Our goal was to make the first event as exciting and as productive as possible,” said Dr. Maria Blekher, director of the YU Innovation Lab. “We had to capture students’ imagination while ensuring they absorb important new concepts quickly.” To make that happen, YU Innovation Lab advisers and faculty were on hand to teach, guide and motivate. They included Mark Finkel, director, Sy Syms School of Business, MBA Program; Thom Kennon, practitioner and adjunct professor, Katz School of Science and Health; and Dr. Blekher.

“At the start of the workshop, some of students had very specific ideas about the type of business they wanted to create, while others weren’t sure in which direction they wanted to go,” noted Dr. Blekher. But despite those differences and the diversity of the participants themselves – 17 different majors were represented with attendees ranging freshmen to graduate students – 16 teams were formed on the first night of the challenge. At the moment, their money-making ideas revolve around technology, cybersecurity and social impact. Their initial concepts are swiftly evolving to concrete business models as each team grows in knowledge, confidence and enthusiasm.

“I’ve been teaching, consulting and doing business for over 35 years,” remarked Kennon, “and I’ve never been part of something like this. I can only imagine where we’ll be at the end of our six-week sprint to Pitch Night. But I guarantee it will be a very special place.”

To compete on Pitch Night, April 5, participants are required to complete all three workshops and to meet with their assigned faculty mentors on a weekly basis. The next workshop on March 8 presents another opportunity for students to finetune their startup ideas in a Q&A with Ariella Shoham, vice president of Aidoc Medical.