McGinnis Venture Competition Spotlights Student Innovations at Carnegie Mellon

Two of Three Winning Entries Were Started by SCS Students

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PITTSBURGH—Two of the three companies receiving top honors in the 2013 McGinnis Venture Competition are led by School of Computer Science students and all three companies received early support from SCS's Project Olympus.

Student innovators and entrepreneurs from across the Carnegie Mellon University campus competed for $60,000 in cash prizes in this year's McGinnis competition. The program, which began in 2004 as an international competition, was relaunched this year with a new three-round, five-month format focusing exclusively on CMU students. Nine teams were selected from more than 30 entries to compete in the March 22 finals.

The winners that will share the $60,000 cash investment are:

  • Playpower Labs is a new company combining game design and learning science and was co-founded by Derek Lomas, a Ph.D. student in the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. Its first commercial product, Fraction Planet, is a game-based supplemental curriculum for fractions instruction that provides comprehensive coverage of the new nationwide Common Core State Standards.
  • Lumator is an intelligent, automated services company led by Prashant Reddy, a Ph.D. student in the Machine Learning Department. It is aimed at helping residential electricity consumers save money, time and resources by optimizing how to buy and use electricity. Lumator's service uses machine-learning technology to offer personalized solutions to consumer energy choices.
  • SolePower is an energy harvesting startup dedicated to developing mobile and renewable power sources that capture wasted energy from human motion and convert it into usable electrical energy. SolePower's first product is a power-generating shoe insert that charges small, portable electronics.
"We are very excited to have the McGinnis Venture Competition focus on Carnegie Mellon student companies," said Dave Mawhinney, co-director of the Carnegie Mellon Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). "One of our goals at the CIE is to create more winning companies from CMU's cutting-edge research. These three winners are great examples of that and we are very happy to help them launch."

"Getting face-time with investors and experienced entrepreneurs and raising capital pose challenges for student entrepreneurs," said Lenore Blum, co-director of the CIE. "The McGinnis competition helps to overcome those barriers and is part of our strategy at the CIE to build stronger connections with our alumni and with the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Western Pennsylvania."

More than 100 students participated in this year's competition, which is open to all CMU undergraduate and graduate students. Leading up to the competition, a competition-focused entrepreneurial boot camp and targeted workshops connect students with top entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, business leaders, and university experts to explore idea generation, opportunity identification and screening, creating an elevator pitch, venture strategy, team formation, and more. The goal is to empower students to achieve their entrepreneurial vision. All three teams receiving top honors this year were Project Olympus Problem-Oriented Business Exploration (PROBE) projects. As PROBEs, the teams receive early support and advice as they investigate the commercial potential of their ideas.

The McGinnis Venture Competition is made possible through a generous endowment from Gerald E. McGinnis, chairman, CEO and founder of Respironics, Inc. It is administered by the Donald H. Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at the Tepper School of Business, which recently joined forces with Project Olympus in the School of Computer Science to form the new Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 |