CMU’s Shark Tank: Five Fledgling Student Startups Earn Investment Capital At McGinnis Venture Competition

SCS Students and Alums Well Represented Among Winners

Innovation and entrepreneurship took center stage at Carnegie Mellon University’s 2014 McGinnis Venture Competition, a cross-campus entrepreneurial challenge in which students compete for $60,000 in investments for their startup companies.

Three teams that included School of Computer Science students and alumni were among the five winners announced March 5 at the conclusion of the multi-round competition.

The competition is sponsored by the Carnegie Mellon Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which includes the School of Computer Science’s Project Olympus and the Tepper School of Business’s Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship.

Two MBA students in the Tepper Class of 2014, Jason Cahill and Neel Kishdan, claimed the top prize of $25,000 in the graduate student division. Their startup company, Impaqd, has created a real-time, GPS-enabled app that connects shipping customers directly to freight carriers allowing them to identify and fill empty cargo space. With one in five trucks on the road traveling without cargo, Impaqd increases efficiency and profitability, while providing shipping customers access to convenient, reliable and cost-efficient transportation.

Second prize and an investment of $15,000 was shared by an alumnus and a current graduate student in CMU’s School of Computer Science, Justin Betteridge (CS’06) and Medhi Samadi (CS’14). Their startup company, Solvvy, Inc.,has created an intelligent problem-solving assistant that significantly enhances a user’s ability to find Web content by using state-of-the-art text analysis technology. Once a user describes a problem, Solvvy will locate the best information available.

Third prize and an investment of $10,000 went to a startup named Appbase. Created by graduate student Anuj Kumar (CS’12,’14), along with partners Siddharth Kothari and Shannan Sullivan, Appbase provides a unified database interface to handle all of the data syncing and querying needs for app developers.

First prize among undergraduates ($4,000) was secured by a six-person interdisciplinary team representing three schools across the CMU campus. Their startup, named Tailored Fit, is an online shopping service that learns an individual’s preferences over time and makes personalized shopping suggestions while providing products and services from multiple retailers on one website. Sharing the prize are computer science student Kate Vogt (CS’14), Dietrich College student Nathaniel Eliason (DC’15), business majors Heidi Yang (TPR'14), Zach Bush (TPR’16) and Matt Baker, Soloman Benjamin, Zach Piekut and Leanna Verderese.

Second place and a $2,500 in the undergraduate division went to Captions, a team that has created a new application for eye glasses that projects translations for any foreign language being spoken to a screen in front of the user’s eye. The team includes two students from the College of Engineering, Elizabeth Ottens (E’15) and Morgan Culbertson (E’17), a student from the Mellon College of Science, Joel Lu (MCS’14), and Brian Yasukochi.

The competition is made possible by a generous endowment from Gerald E. McGinnis, chairman, CEO and founder of Respironics, Inc. Key sponsors for the 2014 competition were, an organization the works with colleges, universities and research institutes around the world to advance student entrepreneurship, and Innovation Works, an organization that plays a vital role in southwestern Pennsylvania’s technology economy by investing capital, business expertise and other resources in the high-potential companies.

The McGinnis Venture Competition is open to all Carnegie Mellon undergraduate and graduate students and is intended to spotlight and advance the commercialization of student-created, -managed and -owned ventures. Non-CMU students may participate as members of a team, as described in the competition’s eligibility details, however, CMU students must deliver the majority of the team’s presentation and must serve as CEO, CTO or COO of each venture.

Throughout the competition, the student participants interact with alumni entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, attempting to help raise capital and provide opportunities to strengthen their company’s strategic planning and positioning.

The inaugural McGinnis Venture Competition in 2004 was founded and hosted by the Tepper School’s Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship as an international competition. The proceedings were reorganized in 2013 by the CMU Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship to increase the event’s focus and outreach toward innovations and collaborations occurring across the CMU campus.

For More Information

Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 |