Baker Institute Funds Student Entrepreneurs in Annual Pitch Competition

Brian Quispe ’20 ’22G and Graham Patterson ’20 win the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 Grand Prize at Baker Institute’s annual award competitions.

Headshot of Brian Quispe ’20 ’22G

Brian Quispe ’20 ’22G, above, along with Graham Patterson ’20, won this year’s Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 grand prize with their venture, Ocutrap.

Brian Quispe ’20 ’22G and Graham Patterson ’20 won this year’s Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 grand prize with their venture, Ocutrap, as the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity, and Innovation virtually recognized Lehigh’s top entrepreneurial talent Wednesday at its annual Innovate award competition.

Ocutrap is a “smart” animal capture system that can target certain animals, reset and open a cage remotely and alert the user with the image of the animal captured.

Portrait of Graham Patterson

Graham Patterson ’20

Ocutrap is disrupting an age-old industry model of trapping animals,” said Alita Friedman ’87, who judged the competition alongside Lehigh President John D. Simon ’19P and Dom Allen ’20.

“They found a way to innovate by incorporating technology and AI [artificial intelligence] into trapping, which includes both identification of animals and their capture/release on a timely basis. As entrepreneurs, they are both solving problems and introducing a ‘better mousetrap’.” 

In accepting the award, which carries a $5,000 prize, Quispe said, “We've come a long way since the Hatchery and I just want to thank a lot of people for guiding us through this entire journey and as well as our business mentor, Stephen Goldthwaite [‘87] who's been an instrumental part of Ocutrap.”

In other awards:

Portrait of Sareena Karim

Sareena Karim ’22

  • Sareena Karim ’22 was awarded $1,000 and the Michael Levin ‘87 Advanced Technology Award, which goes to an engineering student developing new technologies. Her venture, Foli-Q, is a start up for a personalized natural hair product including an advanced bioengineered hair testing service.
  • Michael Rich ’23 was awarded the John and Joan Thalheimer Award for Student Achievement and $1,000. His venture, Streamlined, uses adjustable software templates to provide small businesses with affordable, semi-customizable software.

The People’s Choice award, which carries a $1,000 prize for each winner, went to:

  • Advocan, created by Emma Kwasnoski ’20 ’21G
  • WoodGoods Lacrosse, created by Justin Gelwicks ‘23

The Thalheimer Grand Prize pitch competition centered on three student venture projects—Ocutrap, Foli-Q and Streamlined—vying for the top prize. The projects had progressed the furthest during the ’20-’21 school year—pitching, winning and advancing through the EUREKA! monthly pitch events. At Stage 3, which they had each won, the ideas had been prototyped and had clear externally validated rationale, both technically and financially.

Portrait of Michael Rich

Michael Rich ’23

The finalists then created a five-minute pitch video that outlined why their projects were deserving of the grand prize. In addition to the videos, the finalists were interviewed by this year’s judges: Simon, Friedman and Allen, who was the 2019 Thalheimer Grand Prize winner with Preff, an app that promotes a meet-up over a meal. 

“I was looking for the team I believe has the best chance at succeeding in the market,” Allen said. “This is made up of several factors, such as domain expertise and connections, understanding the customer, ability to articulate financials, and, in the words of several Lehigh ENTP Professors, how well they ‘get out there and do it.’ While working on Preff, getting out there and doing it was what I learned the most from. It's invaluable but uncomfortable. And I'll bet on founders that are comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

The finalists’ presentations were shown during the event, with each judge providing commentary. After the audience viewed the finalists’ videos, they were given a chance to get in on the action themselves by voting in the People’s Choice competition. That competition was open to any student who participated in the EUREKA! monthly pitch events and included seven short videos from students still actively pursuing venture projects.

Portrait of Emma Kwasnoski

Emma Kwasnoski ’20 ’21G

The seven projects were:

  • Advocan, reimagining the pelvic exam experience.
  • FanCity, creating an immersive fan experience that brings luxury box perks to the nose bleeds.
  • The Fit Magazine, Founded by Lehigh University women for college students everywhere, it will help you find your perfect fit to become your best self.
  • Roma, using smell's connection to memory, Pavlov's classical conditioning, and inherent scent properties to improve memory and academic performance.
  • Salma Skin, high quality Moroccan skincare products to diversify anyone's routine
  • WoodGoods Lacrosse, specializing in making personalized, durable wooden lacrosse shafts.
  • Zubel, Simplifying the job application process in the software field

Gelwicks, in accepting a People’s Choice awards said, “Thanks so much to everyone and the generous alumni who have made all this possible, have allowed me to grow my business to places that I never thought I would take it and have allowed me to continue to do so.” 

Kwasnoski said, “I've been working on this project throughout the Technical Entrepreneurship Master’s Capstone, so it really means a lot to have the support from Baker for this.”

Portrait of Justin Gelwicks

Justin Gelwicks ‘23

Following the People’s Choice segment of the event, Baker’s Executive Director Lisa Getzler went live to announce the winners. 

Simon said of Sareena Karim and Foli-Q: “Sareena has made great strides as a solo student entrepreneur by creating a strong customer base through her social media presence. Her pitch showed how well she understands her target customers and having already sold and shipped 800 orders shows how they value Foli-Q. The future of Foli-Q rests squarely on Sareena's ability to define the science behind the hair analysis and the customization of ingredients.”

In addition to the Innovate: Thalheimer Grand Prize & People’s Choice Competition, the Baker Institute is hosting a second virtual event this year to recognize Lehigh’s top entrepreneurial talent. On April 21, it will also host Celebrate: Baker Institute Annual Awards, which will highlight faculty, alumni and student achievement, as well as feature a conversation with 2020 Farrington Award winner Paul Martino ‘95, co-founder and general partner, Bullpen Capital. To register for the event, visit the Baker Institute’s website.

Story by Samantha McGinty Dutton

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