Photo illustration of a lightbulb against a bright yellow background representing the concept of an idea

CWRU students claim first and second prize at ideaLabs 2020

Annual local pitch competition encourages problem solving and creative solutions among entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs

Each spring, undergraduate students from across the region convene to flex their business skills at ideaLabs, a competition in which they develop and pitch entrepreneurial ideas. Like much in 2020, the competition—presented by the Northeast Ohio Entrepreneurship Education Consortium—was postponed, ultimately taking place as a virtual event on Oct. 22. 

Open to all majors, the competition welcomed students from across 10 Entrepreneurship Education Consortium (EEC) institutions, with the top two participants from each school invited to give their pitches to local judges. Case Western Reserve University is a founding member of the consortium and has participated in ideaLabs since 2007. This year, Sonia Velu and Elizabeth Hanna represented CWRU, with the duo ultimately receiving first and second prize, respectively, in the first-ever virtual event.

Velu, a chemical engineering major, placed first for her pitch of Assess-V, an enterprise that allows medical device design teams to use a design database software program with a focus on quality control. The idea combined her interests in sciences and engineering and her desire to invent a meaningful tool that would assist medical professionals. 

Before attending ideaLabs, Velu was involved with the Program Rewarding Innovation in Stem Entrepreneurship (PRISE), a pilot program that helps students pursue and further develop their ideas. After completing PRISE, she took part in the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps™) program, which provides valuable insight regarding entrepreneurship and business startup requirements for researchers. 

Victoria Avi, program manager for CWRU’s LaunchNET—an on-campus service that helps students refine entrepreneurial ideas and provides resource connections to launch a business— introduced Velu to ideaLabs in hopes that she would submit her project.  

“It was so exciting to see Sonia’s growth throughout this process,” she said. “And being a part of both PRISE and I-Corps was great for idea building and customer validation.”

According to Velu, participating in ideaLabs also allowed her to further develop both her professional and interpersonal skills. 

“The amount of connections that you can have from doing pitch competitions is really valuable,” she explained. “This was such a good opportunity and I have met so many great people through [the program]. The judges were also remarkable people that had years of experience and provided a lot of feedback.”

For second-place winner Hanna, who recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations, the experience reaped similar rewards. Hanna’s passion for skincare led her to create Hanna Cosmetiques, a natural makeup products company that serves as an outlet for promoting organic ethnic beauty and ingredients from the Middle East, Mediterranean and West/South Asia regions. After pitching her company at ideaLabs, Hanna left with valuable feedback to take the concept to the next level.

“One judge worked in consumer production,” she said. “They really helped me realize the importance of not underestimating costs, and even offered to reach out for one-on-one consulting.” Hanna is currently in Lebanon obtaining her master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies and eventually aims to run her company full-time.

All CWRU students are eligible to apply for ideaLabs, which will return in the spring of 2021. To stay up to date with more entrepreneurial news, students can sign up for LaunchNET’s newsletter.

Bob Sopko, CWRU LaunchNET director, extended a special thanks to the sponsors of EEC, including the Burton D. Morgan Foundation and the Fred A. Lennon Charitable trust, without whose support this event would not be possible.  

CWRU LaunchNET’s virtual office is open. To connect with the office via phone or Zoom, schedule an appointment.