2019 Swarm Starter Recap

By Ain Center Staff

Each year, the University of Rochester hosts Meliora Weekend, a four-day celebration that includes reunions, workshops, concerts, lectures, and other events to showcase the best that UR has to offer. In recent years, the Ain Center has been stepping up its Mel Weekend game by hosting open houses and, in 2018, a panel session and reception to commemorate 40 years of entrepreneurship at the University. This year, though, we debuted a brand new competition – one with the biggest top prize we’ve awarded to date.

We created a Shark Tank-style challenge to showcase some of the top student startups at UR, inspired by the excitement of the our Ain Center Advisory Council. After an intense selection process, four teams were chosen to give a four-minute pitch in front of a panel of judges, a crowd of 200 people in Hoyt Auditorium, and an audience watching at home via a Facebook live-stream.

  • EZ Water supplies access to clean drinking water by providing cheap, reliable and quality drinking water to Pakistanis through a hyperlocal network of micropreneurs who leverage the power of modern Hollow Fiber Membrane technology to filter, bottle, and distribute water from under one roof. Presenters: Kareem Abdelmaqsoud ’22, Afnan Ahmed ’21, Sara Anis ’20, and Claude Mulindi ’22
  • Humans for Education develops affordable, rapid diagnostic tools easy enough for anyone to use. Presenters: Daphne Pariser ’20M (PhD) and Jeff Beard ’23 (PhD)
  • WetWare Biosystems utilizes novel biotechnology to preemptively mitigate neurotrauma resulting from athletic, civilian, and defense-related traumatic brain injuries. Presenters: Andrew Kaseman ’21, Scott McKinney ’21, and Bradley Smith ’20
  • Prosthesis for a New Syria provides amputees with low cost, customizable 3D printed prosthesis that can help them gain their independence. Presenters: Ibrahim Mohammad ’17, ’24 (PhD) and Omar Soufan ’17, ’18 (MS)

Teams also had to field 10 minutes of Q&A with the judges, who then decided whether or not they would invest and made recommendations to the crowd. That was the catch – for the first time ever, the audience was given the responsibility of choosing a winner.

Using a text-vote platform, 646 people (both in-person and at-home audience members) sent in their choice during a five-minute voting period. After tabulating the results, the $20,000 cash prize was awarded to WetWare Biosystems, a team of undergraduates who have been working on their venture since fall 2018. WetWare presented a solid showing in the Ain Center’s competitions in spring 2019 and then participated in RIT’s Summer Accelerator (made possible via a new partnership with UR). They continue to seek grant funding, new collaboration opportunities, and industry contacts to help move their venture forward.

Congratulations to WetWare Biosystems, winner of the $20,000 prize. Here team members Brad Smith, Andrew Kaseman, and Scott McKinney are presented the giant check by emcee John Moran.

The Ain Center would like to thank our fantastic emcee, John Moran ’89, who kept the competition running smoothly. We would also like to applaud our panel of judges – Quincy Allen ’93S (MBA), Alyssa Carrizales ’20S (MBA), Theresa Mazzullo, and Brennan Mulcahey ’09, ’11S (MBA) – for their insightful questions, enthusiastic support of student entrepreneurs, and, of course, their entertaining remarks. Another round of cheers goes to those who watched the pitches and sent in their votes. Our final thank you goes to all of the participants: the innovative, capable, and passionate students at the University of Rochester encourage us to pursue entrepreneurship ever better.

If you would like to learn more about the Swarm Starter Competition, please contact Heidi Mergenthaler or Natalie Antal. Interested in participating next year? Take advantage of our workshops, training programs, and upcoming competitions to get your team ready!