Dot is a fin-tech startup company offering a platform for cashless transactions to immigrant students in Africa. Dot’s founder took home the grand prize during the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation’s Innovate! Celebrate! Awards Dinner and Eureka Grand Prize Competition on April 18.
Joan Thalheimer and her late husband John, class of ‘55, provided Lehigh with its first endowment in 2006 to support student entrepreneurship in all its forms. Today that endowment has grown through Joan’s generosity to provide the resources for the EUREKA! Ventures Program, the EUREKA! Grand prize and most recently, the Thalheimer Enterprise Alliance, the division within the Baker Institute that supports Lehigh Ventures Lab, the startup accelerator offered in partnership by Baker and Lehigh Business.
Tobey Bill ’23, won the Michael Levin ’87 Advanced Technology Award and was also a Grand Prize finalist for his startup, Unify Studios, an online game platform and game creation engine.
As a lead-in to the awards ceremony, students with earlier stage venture projects were showcased during “Innovation Alley,” an expo-style networking event. Audience members heading for the awards dinner learned about 14 student venture projects and ultimately voted for the “People’s Choice.” That $1,000 prize went to the MycroActive Microscope team: Emily Randolph ’24, bioengineering; and Tyler Richardson ’25, chemical engineering.
In his opening remarks, Provost Nathan Urban said entrepreneurship is an essential part of the university’s mission.
“I want us here at the university to have a greater focus on this kind of work, in particular, in creating startups that will be competitive in the marketplace and allow the ideas of Lehigh faculty and students to have impact in the real world,” Urban said.
The Baker Institute’s Executive Director Lisa Getzler said Dot, the grand-prize winning venture, has several remarkable attributes.
“In addition to it being a fintech start-up, a first for the competition, Dot’s founder is the only first-year student to have won the Thalheimer Student Startup Award,” she said. “He is also the only first-year student to have won the grand prize. He is an international student who came to Lehigh with his nascent venture and entrusted his growth as a founder to our entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Abdulrasaq (Durla) Amolegbe ’26, a first-year finance major, began developing the company in 2021. During the time he attended the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, a two-year educational institution with students from 46 African countries, Dulra and his friends learned they had to carry and use only cash when away from their home country, which was difficult, risky and costly. Bank accounts, credit and debit cards are not valid outside the country where they were issued. Dulra said he founded Dot in order to solve that problem by creating a cash-to-cashless digital experience for immigrant students in Africa.
“I'm an immigrant student who grew up in Nigeria, visited Kenya, and schooled in South Africa and all through, I noticed how difficult it is to access digital banking when you are in a new or foreign country. That's my story. But it's also the story of millions of others out there—immigrant students, immigrant workers, asylum seekers, or refugees,” Amolegbe said.
Through a network of financial and technology partners Dot will provide a digital wallet, offer a virtual Mastercard and instant peer-to-peer transfers without needing an in-country bank account or credit/debit card.
"I hope this will serve as an inspiration to incoming first-year students knowing fully well that Lehigh University takes first-year student founders seriously and there are resources available to help them with their startups,” Amolegbe said.
In addition to the student awards, the Farrington Award for Outstanding Commitment to Entrepreneurship at Lehigh was conferred on Sue Bevan Baggott ’83. The award is given to an individual whose efforts help Lehigh make strides in entrepreneurship education, continuing the tradition of the growth in programs, curriculum and facilities at Lehigh as originally championed by Gregory Farrington, Lehigh’s 12th president.
Four generations of Baggott’s family members attended Lehigh. She was the 10th person from her family to attend, but the first woman.
Held at Ben Franklin TechVentures, the celebration began with remarks by Angelo Valetta, president and CEO of Ben Franklin Technology Partners, President Joseph Helble and Provost Urban, who each provided their unique perspective on the importance of Lehigh’s growing entrepreneurship ecosystem as well as offering kudos to the students and their faculty and staff supporters fueling innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial action.
“The notion of entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurial thinking, is a priority for Lehigh, and one that is important to me personally,” said President Joseph J. Helble ’82 “Helping students develop an entrepreneurial mindset encourages so many of the skills that will be important no matter what direction one takes after Lehigh.”
The Helen and RK Laros Foundation Endowed Prize for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation went to three students this year for their demonstrated entrepreneurial mindset in Baker programs:
Mitchell Katz ’23, Rish Kumar ’24 and Kayla Miller ’23.
The Donald E. Flinchbaugh Memorial Scholarship, given to encourage students to combine technology, engineering and entrepreneurship was awarded to Zoe Sherman ’25, in recognition of her work on InfernoGuard, a device that helps detect forest fires in their early stages before they spread and get more destructive.