By Evelyn Hsieh Wong MTS ’08
1 business plan. 10 minutes to sell it. $35,000 in cash and prizes. That’s what’s at stake at the ELEVATE Pitch Competition, happening Saturday night , October 25, at the Second Harvard Asian Alumni Summit. Everyone knows how creative our alumni, students, faculty, and staff can be. But have you seen them sweat as they pitch ideas in front of hundreds of people and a panel of judges? Just like four years ago, teams will give “elevator pitches” to win cash and prizes, as well as advice from venture capitalists and industry experts, networking opportunities, and media buzz. And everyone’s invited to watch!
ELEVATE was established by Monica Lee AB ’88 and Jeff Yang AB ’89 in 2010. This year, Amy Wu AB ‘09 and Eric William Lin AB ’09 are running the competition. Drawing on their experience in start-ups, venture capital, event planning, business and media, Monica and Jeff modeled ELEVATE after other competitions found at HBS and MIT. These contests blended the excitement and energy of reality TV and sports with the creativity and innovation of the business community. The inaugural ELEVATE competition exceeded all expectations — over 100 entries were submitted from around the world, including as far as Korea, China and England. And the winners, as you’ll see below, are thriving and continuing the cycle of supporting entrepreneurship in all its forms.
This year, hopes are that the competition wiill be even bigger and more impactful; there are tracks for both for-profit and non-profit start-ups and higher cash awards than in 2010.
Here’s what our previous winners have been up to:
2010 Perkins Coie Award for Innovation
Samuel Sia PhD ’02
Diagnostics One: A nonprofit providing a life-saving, low-cost device that can diagnose blood-based diseases in remote parts of the world; it just takes one prick of blood and results come out in 15 minutes.
Since winning the award, Dr. Sia sold his company (Claros Diagnostics) that worked on the device to OPKO Health. Then he set his eyes on another problem: a lack of affordable commercial lab space in New York City. Together with his wife, Dr. Sia founded the Harlem Biospace, “a place where life-science startups can congregate,” he said. The ELEVATE competition was “a great event to hear feedback on our idea from experienced colleagues” and follow up with other attendees, he says. And he’ll be paying it forward — as a judge in this year’s competition.
2010 Dr. James S.C. and Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Award for Change
Kavita Shukla AB ’06 and Swaroop Samant
Fenugreen: A patented biodegradable food packaging material that extends perishable food shelf life two to four times.
Their product, now called FreshPaper, is available in Wegmans, Whole Foods Markets and local stores across the country. It’s been featured in media far and wide, from the Today Show, to the Oprah Magazine, to CNN. Last year, FreshPaper won the prestigious INDEX design award — joining the ranks of previous winners Tesla, Kiva, and Apple. And like Dr. Sia, Fenugreen is paying it forward with its own competition — the $15,000 “Fresh Prize” for ideas to improve the world.
2010 AOL Award for Creativity
Jennifer 8. Lee AB ’99, Mynette Louie AB ’97, and Amit Paley AB ’04
“The Secret Court of 1920″: A film about how the Harvard administration discovered and expelled an underground ring of gay students in 1920, resulting in multiple suicides. Based on a true story.
Today, the script is still being developed with screenwriters. “It’s a big project to tackle in all ways (creative scope, budget, historical significance, etc.), and projects like that tend to take years to develop and get right,” said Mynette. Meanwhile, Mynette has worked on seven feature films that have premiered at film festivals worldwide. She won the Independent Spirit Piaget Producers Award in 2013 and is currently president of Gamechanger Films, a new company that finances women-directed feature films. Jennifer is executive producer of a documentary, “The Search for General Tso,” and working on a startup that brings fiction series to digital platforms.
The 2014 ELEVATE competition is sponsored by Samsung Open Innovation Center, Reitler Kailas & Rosenblatt, and WeWork.