The Hatchery Holds Virtual 2021 ‘Demo Day’

Student entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas for projects that include combating malaria and retaining and attracting talented employees.

Story by

Stephen Gross

Nikita Morrison '20 presents her project to a student

Nikita Morrison '20 (left) presents her project, New Beginnings, which focused on creating vegan leather products, in 2019 at The Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation's Hatchery “Demo Day.” This year, the event was held virtually.

The Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation virtually hosted its annual Hatchery “Demo Day” in early July with students presenting their business ideas on 11 separate venture projects that included reusable takeout containers, a fidget watch that is less distracting in the classroom than current fidget toys and a coffee brand that creates a direct link between Columbian boutique farms and U.S. consumers.

Lisa Getzler, executive director of the Baker Institute, hosted the event and mixed live, one-on-one interviews with students in between recorded presentations.

Alumni, friends, faculty, staff and parents in attendance voted on the venture project from the Hatchery—an immersive summer student idea accelerator— they felt was “Most Likely to Succeed.” Chosen were Solaria, a malaria defense startup by co-founders Nicholas Wilson ’22, Stephon Bland ’23, Jake Logan ’23; and Post 2020 Consulting, which founder Kendra O’Donnell ’22G designed to modernize “businesses’ approach to management through customized hybrid workforce solutions.” Each were awarded $1,000 to further develop their business ideas.

Through affordable mosquito defense products and solar energy programs, Solaria is aimed at reimagining the current model of charity based malaria relief. The venture is focused on improving the physical and financial health of citizens most affected by malaria in African regions.  

Wilson explained that his team got its start by doing research on Malaria, which included finding the existing ways to combat the disease. He said they learned of an African solar company, M-Kopa, whose customers are some of the poorest people in the world. Upon realizing that M-Kopa was more of a business model innovator, rather than a product innovator, they shifted their approach.

“We knew from our research that malaria was notoriously a problem of poverty, and there's an incredibly high correlation between poverty rates and malaria incidences,” Wilson said to Getz in their one-on-one interview. “So we kind of looked at it from that angle and thought about, ‘OK, well, the current models for malaria really aren't contributing to economic stimulation.’ There's a $3 billion global economy for malaria relief and that's not translating to any of the people that it's trying to help. The money trail basically ends there.

“So, we started to think about it in terms of a way that innovates, not necessarily in product as much as it innovates in the way that we're delivering aid to people on a grassroots level,”
he said.

In thanking Wilson for the interview, Getzler reminded viewers that The Baker Institute identifies “entrepreneurs as those who recognize problems as opportunities to create solutions that are innovative and valuable to other people.” She also noted that innovating on a business model, as Solaria is doing, is as entrepreneurial as innovating on a product or service.

Post 2020 Consulting intends to help businesses develop a plan through communications technology, operations management and human behavior research that will attract and retain talented employees in a new environment in which employees are seeking greater flexibility in relation to remote work. O’Donnell cited in her presentation the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on how business is conducted and explained the need for businesses to adapt to the needs of this generation’s workforce.

O’Donnell told Getzler in her interview that one of the steps in the Hatchery is to connect with potential customers, and in doing so, she found a great business opportunity. Part of her project includes implementing a questionnaire or survey to a business’ employees, and that’s exactly what one of the business owners she reached out to was looking for.

“I saw an opportunity to let him know that I was prepared, at this point, to help with that part of the endeavor, and then we could, down the line, work on expanding it into the rest of my project, the bigger the bigger project,” O’Donnell said. “He was really on board for that, very excited by it. So, this was something he's been wanting help with and hasn't been able to find somebody who's doing this yet so it was a great opportunity and it really came from reaching out to small business owners.”

Following the presentations and interviews, each venture team was assigned to a breakout room, and attendees were invited to join the rooms to ask follow up questions, provide feedback or offer advice.

This year, a total of 25 students pursuing 14 separate projects completed the six-week full-time program. Despite the work on the projects being completely remote, 11 entrepreneurial guests and mentorsPatrick Clasen ’04, Tim Marks ’04, Jennifer Long ’93, Jennifer Oomen, Ali Kaminetsky ’16, Sue Baggott ’83, Hetal Jani ’05, Jim Paolino ’09, Ben Gucciardi ’05, ’06G, MJ Chandaliya ’02 and Anne Anquillare ’88—shared their experiences and assisted with the projects. Four professional service providers and six venture project coaches also aided students with the projects.

Story by

Stephen Gross