Three student startups in national Blackstone LaunchPad competition

Carbon Origins
The Carbon Origins team will compete in New York City; this photo was taken on campus last year before they traveled to the Consumer Electronics Show.

Student entrepreneurs from Case Western Reserve University will pitch their startup businesses to a panel of investors in a national competition in New York City Oct. 27-28.

The first-ever Blackstone LaunchPad National Demo Day will pit 20 student startups from across the country—including three from Case Western Reserve—in a contest for $50,000 in prizes. Case Western Reserve is sending the second-most teams to the event.

“It’s a great showing for our students and school,” said Bob Sopko, director of Case Western Reserve’s Blackstone LaunchPad, an on-campus business incubator that helps students and alumni launch new businesses. “Each company has impressive, sophisticated ideas and will compete well in New York.”

“Students are springing ideas out of labs and classrooms,” added Gene Sasso, project manager for Blackstone LaunchPad. “Examining the business potential of their innovations will produce extraordinary learning experiences for students and alumni, and could also lead to economic development for our region and beyond.”

Finalists from Case Western Reserve are SensID, Carbon Origins and Everykey.

SensID has built a device and software that helps nurses develop muscle memory for passing hundreds of medical instruments to surgeons in the operating room. The device has two hands, and trainees learn how to properly pass the sometimes-sharp tools—even measuring the level of pressure used to place the instruments in a surgeon’s hands.

“The operating room can be very tense and stressful. We can help nurses become accurate, quick and reduce mistakes,” said Alexis Schilf, company co-founder and a senior biomedical engineering student from Chicago. The company was co-founded by Jacob Schwarz, a computer science student from Los Angeles.

At the Blackstone competition, SensID will assert its products can reduce high dropout rates among nurses in training by making the process easier, which could also help hospitals meet an oncoming tide of retirements. Not to mention, they see the training simulator as a moneymaker for investors.

“Right now, our only competition is textbooks,” said Schilf. “From a business standpoint, there’s large potential cost savings: training nurses can cost tens of thousands of dollars and, due to high dropout rates, hospitals now have to swallow these costs.”

A prototype of their nurse-training simulator was built at think[ box ], the university’s invention center. The free on-campus lab has assisted hundreds of Case Western Reserve students translate their ideas into new inventions, including the flagship offering from Everykey: a wristband that unlocks devices such as cell phones, tablets, car doors and bike locks.

“Everykey would probably not exist without the help and networking opportunities provided by Blackstone Launchpad. Presenting at their Demo Day is of special significance for us,” said Chris Wentz, CEO of Everykey and a 2013 computer science graduate from Case Western Reserve from Denver.

Representatives from each startup will be given 10 minutes to show how they are meeting current and future market needs, with the winner taking home $25,000 to reinvest in their business. The national Blackstone LaunchPad program is paying for the students’ trips and hosting a dinner for them at the New York Stock Exchange.

Finalist startup Carbon Origins will have the farthest to travel to the competition; students are currently living in the Mojave Desert, testing their latest rockets and flight computers. In New York, they will focus their presentation on a spinoff technology, known as Apollo: a 2.5-square-inch device packed with motion and environmental sensors, GPS, Wi-Fi and other features.

“It can log data on anything it’s attached to, from skydivers to the next generation of miniaturized robots,” said Amogha Srirangarajan, a senior engineering student from Bangalore, India, who is on leave from the university to finish the final prototype of Apollo.

Winning the Blackstone competition would help Carbon Origins fulfill more than 2,000 Apollo pre-orders, he added.

Of the 15 Blackstone LaunchPads on campuses nationwide, Northeast Ohio is home to four, with outposts at Kent State University, Baldwin Wallace University, and Lorain County Community College. Case Western Reserve opened its office in spring 2013.

In New York, student teams from Case Western Reserve will compete with those from the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Southern California; the University of Central Florida; the University of Miami and others.

Blackstone LaunchPad at Case Western Reserve is funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation and the Burton D. Morgan Foundation.