Joan F. Thalheimer and Lisa Getzler

Joan F. Thalheimer, left, who won the Farrington Award for Outstanding Commitment to Entrepreneurship), with Lisa Getzler, executive director of the Baker Institute.

Students Recognized for Entrepreneurial Excellence at Innovate, Celebrate

The Baker Institute hosts awards dinner for student entrepreneurs.

The excitement was palpable as more than 20 Lehigh students shared their startup ideas to faculty, staff, alumni and Lehigh Valley entrepreneurs. By the end of the Baker Institute’s Innovate, Celebrate Awards Dinner Tuesday (April 23), one pitch would receive the People’s Choice Award and another, the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 Grand Prize of $5,000.

The annual event recognizes student, faculty and alumni innovation and celebrates those who support student entrepreneurship.

During the pre-dinner expo, attendees voted for their favorite pitch with “Baker Bucks.” The startup that received the most investments would be awarded the People’s Choice Award. Ideas ranged from Volta (Sophia Eschenbach-Smith ’20, Matthew Gunton ‘22, Dave Jha ’22), a luxury messenger bag featuring technology that securely prevents wireless signals from entering or exiting, to Luminae (Zhané Jackson ’18 ‘19G), a service that eliminates the guessing game when it comes to purchasing hair products.

The Grand Prize was determined during dinner, when three startup teams pitched live for the audience that included three guest judges: Alita Friedman ’87 ’17P ’19P, Brent Rosenthal ’88, and Marlena Sarunac ’08 ’18G. The award caps the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 EUREKA! Competition Series, in which students compete monthly throughout the year, pitching startup ideas for the chance to win mentoring and funds. Students are encouraged to progress through three stages, improving from early ideation in stage 1, to prototyped ideas in stage 3.

A Sneakerhead's Paradise

Eliza Wastcoat '20, left, and Nazr El-Scari '21, who developed A Sneakerhead's Paradise.

The three teams that progressed the furthest this year were tapped to pitch live for their shot at the $5,000 Grand Prize. Pitching for the Grand Prize this year were:

  • A Sneakerhead’s Paradise (Nazr El-Scari ‘21 and Eliza Wastcoat ‘20), a subscription-based service offering access to limited edition shoes at retail price.
  • Gavel-It (David Pochapin ‘19), a social media platform that allows for people to settle their everyday debates.

David Pochapin '19, left, demonstrates Gavel-It, a social media platform that allows for people to settle their everyday debates.

  • Preff (Dom Allen ’20, Cameron Cipriano ’21, Jack Cunngingham ‘21, Will Peracchio ’21), a dedicated social media network that facilitates in-person meetups and leads to hyper-focused advertising from restaurants.

Leonard P. Pool Prize, Other Winners

In other accolades, 12 student entrepreneurs were recognized with the Leonard P. Pool Prize, given to rising juniors and seniors who possess the entrepreneurial spirit. The Pool Prize winners for 2019 are:

  • Victor Contreras ’20
  • Nazr El-Scari ’21
  • Rebecca Lutinen ’20
  • Praveen Joseph ’20
  • Abigail Mitchell ’21
  • Natalie Mitchell ’21
  • Alexa Nunamaker ’20
  • Victoria Pasini ’20
  • Julia Pietruszka ’20
  • Salvador Silva ’20
  • Douglas Witte ’19
  • Alex Woods ’21

Michael Wu ‘20 was awarded the Donald E. Flinchbaugh Memorial Endowed Scholarship, given to students who combine the study and practice of technology, engineering and manufacturing.

Boniface Kyalo ’22 received recognition as a Davis Projects for Peace winner, an award from the Kathryn W. Davis Foundation that funds grassroots projects at American colleges and universities.

“Entrepreneurship allows me to see problems as opportunities to create solutions,” Kyalo said. “At Lehigh, I’ve found a community of diverse yet like-minded risk takers, we are being inspired to find solutions to some of the toughest world problems.”

The John B. Ochs Award for Faculty Achievement in Entrepreneurship Education at Lehigh, named for the recently retired Lehigh faculty member, was presented to Ganesh Balasubramanian, assistant professor of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics.

Farrington Award

The biggest surprise of the evening came when President John Simon ‘19P presented the Farrington Award for Outstanding Commitment to Entrepreneurship. Named for Lehigh’s 12th president, Gregory Farrington, the award is annually given to a person who has made a positive impact on the Lehigh entrepreneurial community.

This year’s winner was shocked as her name was announced, but to those in attendance, her win came as no surprise. Joan F. Thalheimer, together with her husband John M. Thalheimer ‘55, endowed Lehigh with a gift in 2005 that has helped grow and sustain the entrepreneurial immersion programs and she continues to be a generous and innovative supporter.

Simon said Thalheimer “holds a longstanding belief in all that Lehigh does to foster our students’ capacity for creativity and innovation, an entrepreneurial mindset, and the skills needed to act on it.” While accepting the award, Thalheimer referenced her enjoyment of experiencing the immense student talent nurtured by the Baker Institute year after year.

People's Choice, Grand Prize Winners

As the evening came to a close, it was time to award the two biggest student prizes of the night.

After all the Baker Bucks were counted, the People’s Choice Award went to Yabo LLC (Max Mastbaum ‘18 ‘19G, Tom Macon ‘19, and Dario Sabadussi ‘19), a mobile platform that enhances the in-dining experience by making paying a restaurant bill or closing a bar tab quicker, easier and safer.

To award the Grand Prize, the judges first met privately with each team to ask questions, then deliberated.

Third place was awarded to A Sneakerhead’s Paradise, and second place was awarded to Gavel-It.

The Preff team won the Grand Prize of $5,000

The Preff team won the grand prize of $5,000. Team members are Dom Allen '20, Cameron Cipriano '21, Will Peracchio '21 and John Cunningham '21.

Grand Prize went to Preff. The team plans to use the funds to travel to the National Restaurant Association Show in summer to learn more about the industry and introduce Preff to new audiences.

The Innovate, Celebrate Awards Dinner marked the end of the academic year for the Baker Institute. But in one month, the 10-week Hatchery: Student Idea Accelerator begins. Also, six students will head off to London, England and New Delhi, India for entrepreneurial internships.

Story and photos by Samantha McGinty Dutton

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