Four Emerson student entrepreneurs and their coaches pitted their business venture against ideas from five other Boston-area colleges and universities in an intercollegiate pitch fest earlier this month —and won.
Masq, a weighted sleep mask infused with essential oils, came away the winner of Ignite, the Shark Tank-style competition hosted by InnovateEDU, an entirely student-run cross-collegiate entrepreneurial organization. Other participating schools were Boston College, Boston University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern University, and Suffolk University.
“It was just a great feeling, knowing all our hard work paid off,” said Carolina Donoso ’21, a Business of Creative Enterprises (BCE) major and one of the four Emerson students to take home the trophy. Her teammates were BCE major Miles Thornton ’21, and Marketing Communications majors Ranton Andaya ’20 and Isabella Novack ’21.
Judges for the competition were Duncan Walker, vice president of research and development at Jebbit, a declared data platform; Paige Friedlander, executive coordinator at accelerator MassChallenge; Fiona Whittington, a BU student and coder who participated in the first semester of InnovateEDU, and Peter MacDonald, an MBA candidate at BC and founder of Wunderite, a data app for the insurance industry.
In many respects, Emerson’s Masq was the simplest and most analog of the ventures.
The BC team submitted an app meant to help people with color blindness differentiate hues, and the Northeastern entry was a sharing app so people could rent out their belongings when they weren’t using them. Suffolk and BU both aimed at sustainability, BU with a trash compactor and Suffolk with a coffee machine that tried to combat waste from K-cups. MIT students submitted an antimicrobial film that could be placed on commonly touched areas like doorknobs.
But in the end, the judges were unanimous.
“I think, specifically, [the Emerson team’s] go-to-market strategy and timeline made the most sense,” said BCE major Cailey Newton ’20, campus director of InnovateEDU and a coach/manager for the team.
Emerson has a number of opportunities for students with an entrepreneurial bent. The Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship program, which counts as a minor, offers a structured business development track and features its own pitch fest. Emerson Launch is a more freeform innovation hub where students interested in entrepreneurship can get ideas, feedback, and support.
InnovateEDU is unique in that it’s entirely run by students, across several campuses.
Team coach Rebecca Bass ’20, also a BCE major, was in charge of interviewing prospective students and assembling a team to compete in this year’s Ignite.
“We were definitely looking for people who had sort of different areas of interest and different areas of expertise,” Bass said. “Also I was looking for different types of people that work [well together]. A couple were really good at leading teams, a couple were good listeners. All around they were self-motivated.
She said she really wanted the group to create something they could realistically “bring to life”—a strategy that paid off in the end.
Donoso worked on the design and visuals of the project, from what the mask prototype would look like to marketing materials for the project.
“It’s such a simple product; we really wanted to make it visually realistic for when we were going to present,” she said. “What was going to make it stand out is the fact that the mask is infused with essential oils [that are] apart from the usual lavender that everyone uses.”
The oils Masq would use—for instance, passionflower—would be designed to produce different benefits. One might make you fall asleep faster, one might invigorate, Donoso said.
The team won mostly bragging rights from the competition, but they’re hoping to see if they can get some funding and make Masq a reality, she said.
Meanwhile, Newton has big plans for InnovateEDU. They’re filing to become a recognized 501(c)(3) so they can raise money and get sponsors, and they’re talking to Tufts University and Wentworth Institute of Technology about joining the club, she said.
Eventually, she’d like to see Ignite feature teams organized not by campus, but by the problem that needs solving, Newton said.
“We’re really trying to change the model,” she said.