Student entrepreneurs compete in 2015 Spartan Challenge for more than $20,000 in start-up funds, mentoring

Foot-powered mobile phone charger for developing countries takes first place

greenlite spartan challenge
Samuel Crisanti, Evan Harris, Ian Ferré (GreenLite Technology)
Photo by Anthony Gray

More than $20,000 was at stake—funding that could give a promising student business idea a real boost.

Sixteen student teams entered the Spartan Challenge, Case Western Reserve University’s annual business start-up contest, offering—in addition to prize money—seasoned experts to mentor them from concept through planning.

Case Western Reserve undergraduate students were invited to join students from the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Cleveland Institute of Music to compete. Participants proceeded through a series of activities emulating the angel- and venture-investment process in two stages.

The Business Concept Stage required each team to develop an oral five-minute “elevator pitch,” a one-page executive summary and a two-page presentation or YouTube video describing their concept.

Students were provided instruction and mentorship on their business concepts through hands-on workshops and website resources.

A panel of judges then reviewed the competitors to pare them down to the top six teams. Each of the six semifinalists won $500 to advance to the Business Planning and Mentorship Stage, in which they were paired with entrepreneurs, business leaders and other experts to closely mentor them to refine and strengthen their concepts.

Each produced a five- to 10-page Business Planning paper that addressed such fundamental issues as start-up capital requirements, how the product or service fills a need, who the target customer is, who the market competitors are and more.

First prize won $10,000, with $5,000 for second place and $2,500 for third.

First place:

GreenLite Technology, which developed a foot-pedal generator capable of charging a cell phone and LED lights as an ultra-affordable, low-load power source to developing countries. The team leader is Ian Ferre, a sophomore majoring in mathematics.

Through preparation and mentoring from the Spartan Challenge experience, the GreenLite team proceeded to win $75,000 in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s P3 (People, Prosperity and the Planet) Grant Competition, a prestigious national award challenge that allows college entrepreneurs to further design, implement and move to the marketplace a project that benefits people, promotes prosperity and protects the planet (thus the name).

GreenLite was one of seven teams to win $75,000 from among 42 competitors.

“First and foremost, the Spartan Challenge taught all of us the power of a strong presentation,” Ferre said. “We learned that the simplest explanation for an idea is usually the best. This money is going to help us with our rapid prototyping, beta testing and in-country analysis in Lesotho and the Philippines.”

Second place:

Triple Analytics, which created a software platform that allows clinicians to leverage big data to personalize the treatment of chronic conditions. Cal Al-Dhubaib, a junior majoring in computational neuroscience, leads the team.

Third place:

College Hamper, a scalable laundry courier service for college campuses run within a logistics-driven mobile software framework. The team leader is Marc Parnell, a first-year student majoring in economics and mathematics.

“The judges struggled with the very close competition, so we decided to award an Honorable Mention prize ($1,500) this year,” said Colin Drummond, professor and assistant chair in the Department of Biomedical Engineering.

Honorable Mention:

Flight Club, a nonprofit offering underprivileged students lessons in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) by building “quadcopters.” The team is led by sophomore Justo Karell, who is majoring in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

The Spartan Challenge—established by Joyce Erony (WRC ’81), who has more than 25 years of experience as a principal in investing activities, investment banking and business development—is supported on campus by Drummond; Bob Sopko, director of Blackstone LaunchPad; Joseph Jankowski, the university’s chief innovation officer; and think[ box ].

“We are indebted to Joyce Erony for not only coming up with the idea for this competition, but for her second year of financial support and all the time she took visiting campus, arranging mentors and being a part of the process every step of the way,” Drummond said. “Joyce’s commitment to—and support for—this project is exemplary.”