Twenty undergraduate students showcased their entrepreneurial spirit at the 12th annual E3 Expo, where students competed for cash prizes and feedback on their start-up ideas. Students pitched their ventures at the Bordy Theater on Friday, April 21.
First place, which included a cash prize of $5,000, was awarded to Lea LeBlanc ’17, who developed a fashionable and comfortable underwear for women with incontinence called Wunder. LeBlanc said she was surprised by the win.
“After my graduation this May, I am staying back in Boston to launch Wunder, which is a perfect product for the health care ecosystem,” LeBlanc said. “I have a lot of start-up costs to take care of, so these funds will be invested right back in the business.”
Second-place winners were Kayla Saliba ’17 and Kim Gonzalez ’17, who split a $3,000 prize for developing OddSpace, an online platform for DIY event planners. The partners met at an internship and decided to research the market to come up with the current version of OddSpace.
“We are really serious about our business, and this experience has helped us prepare a succinct pitch for our venture,” said Saliba.
Meanwhile, the winner of the third-place $2,000 cash prize, Alex Ilyadis ’17, partnered up with his longtime friend, Lucien Jodoin, to create Piddle, an app that helps you find a public restroom in any major city.
The idea for the app came through Jodoin’s personal experience, after his pregnant fianceé was forced to use a dirty toilet at a T station because they couldn’t find a bathroom nearby.
“After we announced our win to our friends and family, they decided voluntarily to fund the rest of the cost to develop the app. This is a feasible app, and it has viability,” said the duo.
Jules Pieri, co-founder and CEO of consumer product launchpad The Grommet, was guest speaker. EvyTea founder Evy Chen ‘11, who won the E3 Expo in 2010, was also at the event to share her experiences. Chen said that winning the Expo was a motivation for her to go ahead and explore the world of entrepreneurship.
“I think this is a wonderful opportunity for students to work on an idea and test it instead of jumping into the real world and figuring everything out on their own,” Chen said. “Over the years, the program has matured with more mentors and networking opportunities for the participating students.”
Agreeing with Chen, Senior Executive-in-Residence and E3 mentor Lu Ann Reeb said that during the program, students are thrown right into different situations where they have to start thinking like an entrepreneur.
“It is great to compare the class from last September to now,” Reeb said. “These students are now entrepreneurs. I hope they understand that it takes patience to do it all, but at the same time they have to be confident to try something new and have self-determination.”
Meanwhile, the judges were impressed with the execution of these innovative ideas and had a hard time deciding on the winners. This year’s judges were Trish Cotter, associate managing director of MIT’s Martin Trust Center for Entrepreneurship, with which E3 had an informal partnership this year; David Breen ’78, founder of VDA Productions and a member of the Emerson Alumni Board; E3 tutor Leslie Medalie, founder of Leary Public Relations; and Lindsey Simeone, director of special projects for MassChallenge.
“These ventures were an example of good execution, planning, and great marketing strategies. I wish an expo like this was around when I was starting my business,” Medalie said.
Rey Sleiman Sawan ’17 was the winner of the $1,500 Karl Baehr Memorial Scholarship, which was sponsored by Baehr’s family and friend, Ellen Finer Kuvin, after his death in 2013. Baehr founded E3 in 2005. Sawan’s venture was a Lebanese food truck that lets customers experience a Beirut street market through virtual reality.
The Clemens Social Enterprise Scholarship Award, a $1,000 scholarship given to a student who has created a social enterprise and demonstrated a commitment to “doing well by doing good,” went to Kaylee Largay ’17, who envisions an art festival that raises money for nonprofits. The award is sponsored by entrepreneur Tripp Clemens ’14, co-founder of Emerson Launch.
The E3 Entrepreneurial Spirit Award went to Nick Vigue ’18, whose venture produces limited edition, premium T-shirts dedicated to preserving lost art and supporting local artists.