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Entrepreneurship in Action: The YU Innovation Challenge Pitch Night

On Monday, April 4, 2022, 14 finalists from the YU Innovation Challenge arrived at Yagoda Commons on Beren Campus prepared and ready for Pitch Night, the concluding event in a six-week learning competition that began in February designed to refine the startup skills of want-to-be entrepreneurs. The brass ring? A grand prize of $500 and the chance to join the YU Innovation Lab cohort of startups this summer.

The Challenge, a team effort of the Lab and the Shevet Glaubach Center for Career Strategy and Professional Development, drew an initial participation of more than 80 undergraduates and graduates across 17 majors and five schools, all seeking to convert their one big startup idea into financial and reputational success. Reaching that goal meant equipping the participants with the ability to generate workable ideas, collaborate and network with polish and style, and convince real-world investors to back their dreams.

entrepreneurship pitch (l:r) First-place winners Miriam Fried, Charlie Grill and David Price accept the grand prize from Baruch Glaubach.

Competition was fierce in the weeks before Pitch Night. After prepping at workshops, digging into research, brainstorming with mentors and polishing their presentations, only six teams, comprised of 14 students, made the final cut. And on that Monday night in a Yagoda Commons packed with peers and faculty, those finalists steeled their nerves and, during their allotted five minutes for presenting, used everything they had learned to deliver what they hoped would be the winning pitch to three seasoned venture capitalists: Elisha Tropper, founder and CEO of Cambridge Security Seals LLC; Benny Lorenzo, founder and managing partner of Aspira Capital Management; and Edith Simchi-Levi, member and co-chair of Israel Investment Committee. The votes of the audience would also be part of the final score.

Each team presented what Dr. Maria Blekher, director of the Lab, called an “original and bold” startup solution that addressed an emerging problem or remedied a deficiency in an existing product or service. These ranged from food insecurity and food waste (Food Forward) to the needs of the homeless in California (PA Box) to a subscription service for women’s undergarments (Hava).

After two hours of presentations, the vote was tallied, and the winners announced. First place went to David Price ’24SB, Miriam Fried ’22S and Charlie Grill ’23YC of the RELiVE team, who wowed the judges and the audience with a design to revolutionize the EV car battery market by recycling lithium-ion batteries. “Winning first place felt amazing,” said Fried, “even though it wasn’t the main objective. All three of us worked really hard to put together the proposal.” The feeling was mutual for Price. “Winning was a validation for all the work we had put in, but as our mentor Dean Strauss kept telling us, the challenge was as much about learning as about winning.”

Second place went to Temira Koenig ’24SB and Atara Teitelman ’24SB of Autotroph, an eco-conscious approach for a more efficient refueling of electric vehicles. Third place winners were Yael Levy  ’23SB, Rivka Margalit ’23SB and Emily Sternberg ’23SB of COW, an innovative solution for transforming methane from landfills into renewable energy.

(Editor’s Note: The YU Innovation Challenge is a joint initiative of the YU Innovation Lab and the Shevet Glaubach Center for Career Strategy and Professional Development. That partnership would not have been possible without a transformational gift from the Glaubach family for which everyone on the YU Innovation Challenge team is very grateful.)