Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bold ideas win 1,000 Pitches entrepreneurship contest

What if your car radio could let you know an ambulance or fire engine was approaching? What if an iPad app could help cerebral palsy and brain injury patients use a touch screen? What if your phone could help you reserve a parking spot on the other side of town?


Click here for more information about the 1,000 Pitches contest.

U-M students didn't just wonder these things. They took an important step toward making them happen. They shared their ideas in the fourth annual 1,000 Pitches entrepreneurship contest. The nine winners were announced Sunday morning at a ceremony at the Michigan Union.

This year the competition garnered a record 3,303 ideas. It is believed to be the largest student-run entrepreneurial competition in the world.

"Entrepreneurship is what's driving the change in this world," said Najia Yarkhan, a 1,000 Pitches project director and a chemical engineering student. "It's about using your passion to get out there and change something. That's what's happening here at U-M, with so many great ideas coming from the students."

The 2011 winners are listed below. (Note: Some links may require users to log in to a Google account to enable viewing.)

• In the web and software category, Sanjeet Ganjam and Alex Su for To a Tee, a Web-based platform they describe as "Pandora for clothes." Powered by the true measurements of popular retailers' clothing sizes, the site would help users determine their sizes across different manufacturers, taking some of the guesswork out of shopping online. Ganjam and Su are law students. Click here to watch the final pitch.

• In the small business category, Zachary Hwang for his system that would monitor the health of heat exchangers in industrial plants. Hwang's system would prevent failure and costly downtime of industrial plants. Hwang is an undergraduate engineering student.

• In the consumer products category, Paul Schrems and Nick Turnbull for Torsion, a smartphone case with retractable headphones, so users can avoid tangled cords. Schrems is a master's student in the Energy Systems Engineering program and Turnbull is a junior in mechanical engineering. Click here to watch the final-round pitch.

• In the mobile app category, Catherine Huang, for ParkMe, which would show a map of Ann Arbor parking spaces and allow users to reserve one in advance (just for 15 minutes while they drive to it.) Huang is a freshman hoping to double major in business and psychology. Click here to watch the final-round pitch.

• In the tech and hardware category, Jessica Micallef, for a plan to adapt radio jammers to emergency response vehicles. The devices, which could be added to fire trucks, ambulances and police cars, would jam the radio music in vehicles within a half-mile radius, helping drivers hear approaching sirens. Miscallef, a freshman planning to double major in chemistry and interdisciplinary physics, has spent her past two summers training to be a firefighter. Click here to view the final-round pitch.

• In the environment category, Jake Drutchas for biogasification, which would convert food waste from U-M's dining halls into biogas that could be used for clean energy and heat. Drutchas is an undergraduate business student.

• In the health category, Michael Gleba for a smartphone app and device that makes it easier for people with diabetes to track their blood sugar. The device plugs into the audio jack of a smartphone for power. It not only replaces portable electronics designed solely for blood-sugar tracking, it includes an app that allows users to keep track of their blood sugar over time. Gleba is a junior in industrial and operations engineering. Click here to watch the final-round pitch.

• In the social entrepreneurship category, Ginny Liu, for the ASK Interfaces app for Android tablets that allows individuals with cerebral palsy, Parkinson's disease and brain injuries that reduce fine motor skills to better use a touch screen. Liu and her colleagues expect to release the app in the next few months. Liu is a senior neuroscience student. Click here to view the first-round pitch.

• In the MProvements category, Jimmy Li for UMSpeaks, a website that lists guest speakers across campus and lets students sign up to receive alerts according to their topic preferences. Li is an undergraduate engineering student. Click here to view the first-round pitch.

"The growth in entrepreneurial activity at U-M has been significant during the last several years, and over that time a pipeline of entrepreneurial activity and talent has emerged that we have embraced," said Doug Neal, managing director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering.

1,000 Pitches is part of a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem at U-M. With a new one-year Master of Entrepreneurship program, two startup accelerators, three entrepreneurship centers and countless business pitch, plan, and model competitions, U-M is educating, inspiring and supporting entrepreneurs across campus.

Each winning pitch received a $1,000 prize.