The Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition

Over the past two days I have been looking over product and start-up pitches in my role as one of the judges of this year’s Ansary Entrepreneurship Competition at Stevens Institute of Technology. Each year undergraduate students turn their undergraduate engineering and business Senior Design Projects into business plans, and prepare elevator pitches to compete for prizes that total $17,500.

I have been spending my evenings reading executive summaries and listening to the (video recorded) pitches while providing feedback and asking questions about their business ideas and product approaches. I used to do this more often when I was a grants officer at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and hadn’t realized how much I missed it. Start-up work has always been a component of my projects and roles, but there is something about looking at a bunch of different ideas in rapid succession that provides a different kind of mental exercise - sort of like the difference between running a marathon vs doing a bunch of hearty sprints.

I am always inspired by the ideas created by motivated undergraduates, and this group was no exception. From prostheses for dogs, to new forms of data transfer, to innovations in novelty ice for cocktails, to devices that help health aids in moving patients, to some fine-tasting kombucha, the ideas are inspiring and exciting. If only one team pursues their idea to the next phase it will be a tremendous win in my book. And even if none decide to move in this direction, I consider the process of thinking through the product, economic, and business components of an idea a worthwhile exercise for all. It provides an appreciation for this type of work, and I feel it increases the general level of innovation capacity that is out there - the spirit that will create the next great idea or address the next significant challenge.

But, for now, there is a competition to complete with a few more stages to the judging process. The official winners of the prize will be announced on Friday, but in my book, they all should be celebrated. To all of them, I offer my congratulations!