Case Western Reserve University places two of eight finalists in South by Southwest’s “Student Startup Madness” competition

(Update: Parihug placed second and Reflexion Interactive Technologies placed third in the competition.)

The top college startups in America are set to meet in a “Student Startup Madness” championship next month at South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive in Austin, Texas.

And two of the “Entrepreneurial Eight” finalists—from more than 200 entries representing 60 universities—are from Case Western Reserve University:

  • Reflexion Interactive Technologies, a company cofounded by Matt Campagna, a Case Western Reserve sophomore studying computer engineering, and two high school friends, who now attend Pennsylvania State and Cornell universities. The company developed a rapid concussion-screening technology.
  • Parihug, a company founded by Xyla Foxlin, a Case Western Reserve junior studying mechanical and aerospace engineering, that created Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-enabled teddy bears that allow loved ones to virtually “hug” each other from anywhere in the world.

Campagna and Foxlin learned they had advanced to the finals while exhibiting in adjacent booths—among the 10 Case Western Reserve displayed—at CES 2017 in Las Vegas in January.

Case Western Reserve is the only university with two finalists. The others are from Carnegie Mellon University; University of Florida; University of Michigan; Illinois Institute of Technology and University of Nebraska-Lincoln; University of Georgia and University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA); and New York University.

Student Startup Madness is a national collegiate tournament focused on startups. In the finals, on March 13 in Austin, the eight student startups will pitch their technology to a panel of successful entrepreneurs and investors.

The winning team will receive a package of software and services—valued at more than $2,000, according to event promoters.

More than 200 student startups applied online between August and early December. The first two rounds of competition were held online. A starting field of 64 was whittled to 32 semi-finalists, and then to the final eight.

“I’m sure the competition will be tough, but we definitely have a shot,” Campagna said. “We have a good story to tell.”

Reflexion Interactive Technologies

Campagna and his co-founders have been developing their technology since their senior year of high school near Lancaster, Pennsylvania—prompted after one of them suffered a concussion while playing hockey and actually went back into the game.

“We felt there needed to be a better concussion-monitoring system,” he said. “Something with great technology that was fast, portable and affordable.”

They’ve developed a system that can screen an athlete for concussion in 30 seconds—raising nearly $200,000 in grants and from angel investors for clinical research and some additional funding from the Larry Sears and Sally Zlotnick Sears think[box], the university’s innovation hub, where some of the product’s components were built.

“CWRU, as a whole, has helped. I have a lot of mentors here,” he said, citing Scott Shane, the A. Malachi Mixon III Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies; Bob Sopko, director of CWRU LaunchNET; Colin Drummond, professor and assistant chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering; and more.


For Foxlin and Parihug, “Student Startup Madness” marks a return to South by Southwest. During last year’s festival, Parihug captured the Reader’s Choice award at the Tech.Co SXSW Startup of the Year pitch competition.

The teddy bears connect by Wi-Fi and vibrate when one is hugged, allowing people thousands of miles away from each other to comfort one another. If both are hugged at the same time, they emit a heartbeat.

Being named one of eight finalists is merely the latest accolade in a steady stream of attention Foxlin and Parihug have drawn from media and within startup funding circles.

At SXSW, Foxlin intends to simply bask in a festival where creativity, design and technology come together.

“My whole mantra is technology and art are really the same thing—artists and engineers all working together to create one product, which is what everyone there is embracing, at least for that week,” she said.

Other Entrepreneurship Efforts

In addition to the two finalists, CWRU also has students who formed, an affordable maker machine, and, a YouTube series encouraging engineering for everyone, as special SXSW exhibitors, highlighting their contributions to the maker community.

The Blackstone Charitable Foundation, a sponsor of Student Startup Madness, helped start what is now CWRU LaunchNET, an on-campus entrepreneurship program funded mainly by the Burton D. Morgan Foundation.