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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Academics & Research

Battle of Classes has first in person competition


Battle of the Classes

Winner of this year’s Battle of the Classes Mehdi Mortazavi presenting his ExoBak back brace idea. | Courtesy of Liana Gonzalez-Schulenberg

The Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship hosted the third annual Battle of the Classes pitch competition over the past couple of months, with the final round having taken place on April 7.

The three best pitches after several rounds received awards to continue working on their startup ideas.

This year was the first time the event was open to all UH students rather than only students in innovation-based classes, said RED Labs program manager Liana Gonzalez-Schulenberg.

This is also the first Battle of the Classes with an in-person component, since the 2020 and 2021 competitions were held online due to COVID-19. 

This year, the first round of applications involved a recorded version of the pitch, after which eight teams of semi finalists were invited to present in person.

“People think of startups like Facebook and pitches like what they see on Shark Tank, but in reality, startups are just businesses that are solving problems with innovative solutions,” Gonzalez-Schulenberg said. “They can range from software to automate a process, to a cool product that saves you money, or a medical device that improves patient outcomes.”

For the Battle of the Classes, students were judged on the market size, need for the idea, feasibility of next steps and quality of the presentation. 

Students were expected to identify what value customers would receive from the solution, such as savings in terms of time or money. The Wolff Center provided resources for all competitors to prepare.

First place winner industrial design senior Mehdi Mortazavi of the Hines College of Architecture and Design pitched ExoBak, a back brace that prevents back injuries in delivery drivers.

Industrial design junior and second place winner Nicholas Meyer heard about the competition from a professor and decided to participate to gain startup experience and boost his design consulting resume. His pitch was for an injection-molded, automotive oil pan.

“It doesn’t sound that amazing on paper, but it’s really simple ideas that are executable that I feel actually have a shot at making it to mass production,” Meyer said. “This kind of thing looks good on resumes because it shows you are really thinking through all the steps of bringing a product from a simple idea to an actual, workable, profitable product.”

The friendly competition is also used as a promotion effort for the RED Labs and RED Launch summer accelerator programs that some previous years’ winners have gone on to participate in.

Third place winners Quang Vo, Danny William Guevara, Miguel Arias, Denis Nyarwaya and Abdur Rahman Abdul Kalam made up a team of mechanical engineering senior and master’s students who collaborated on a pitch for the usage of drones to precisely detect debris in the ocean.

“If we’re successful, we’ll see if we can patent the solution,” Arias said. “We’d maybe do summer classes like the RED Labs and further our education to make sure we’re ready to do a startup and build a prototype.”

Previous winners have gone on to join other startups or start various businesses, according to Gonzalez-Schulenberg.

“I think generally students that participate learn the basic principles of pitching, like how to communicate their ideas to a general audience and make an argument as to why their idea could be a good business,” Gonzalez-Schulenberg said.

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