Students pitch start-ups

Vicki Lui/Daily
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BY HILLARY CRAWFORD
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 20, 2014

At the Rackham Building Friday, students pitched their start-up ideas as part of the second annual optiMize Social Innovation Showcase.

OptiMize is a student organization that provides resources for those seeking to implement world-changing projects and start-ups. LSA, United Way of Washtenaw County, Innovation Blue, Central Student Government and other University affiliates provide funding for the event.

In Dec. 2013, the founding group of optiMize members accepted applications from students hoping to receive funding for their social innovation ideas in the optiMize Challenge.

By January 30 teams were selected from a pool of 50. After delivering pitches to a panel of judges, five teams were chosen as finalists earlier this month and received a grant of $5,000.

The optiMize Showcase on Friday celebrated the journey from fuzzy ideas to fully formed projects. The finalists discussed their ideas to fellow students, who then voted for a crowd favorite to win an additional $1,000.

Phil Deloria, LSA associate dean for undergraduate education, opened the program and said the University as a “place for learning” is an understatement — learning also involves approaching the world’s possibilities as a creator.

Next, the five finalists presented their ideas for bettering the world through social innovation. The five teams included Go Green Technologies, Synapse, Miscellania, Blueprints for Pangaea and STARR Movement.

Go Green Technologies won the $1,000 crowd vote award. This team developed a low-cost, efficient alternative to home energy systems. LSA freshmen Praveen Loganathan and Alexander Cox, Go Green Technologies’ creators, engaged with the audience to solidify their motto: “Go Blue, Stay Green.”

The freshmen will build their first Go Green-powered home this summer, which will use solar, wind and hydrogen energies paid for in monthly increments of $250 for 10 years. Their product reduces a home’s average carbon footprint by 80 percent.

Cox created the idea as a sophomore in high school, but put it on the back burner. After he and Loganathan met in their Baits Residence Hall dorm this year, the two decided to combine their talents and bring the idea to life.

“Anywhere at Michigan, people are so open and friendly that you can make a new friend, a new business partner,” Loganathan said.

Loganathan, who is also a member of the Ross Preparation Initiative Learning Community, said he was initially afraid of taking the first steps towards becoming an entrepreneur and having confidence in his own abilities.

“But the aspect of ‘Why not me?’ came to me saying I can do it; I have the necessary knowledge to do it,” Loganathan said.

In between pitches, past finalists introduced the next team, while sharing progress reports on their own projects with the audience. After receiving funding April 2013, these innovators continued to participate in the optiMize group by mentoring the next cohort of social innovators.

Business sophomore Claudia Lynn, a member of the optiMize core team, said previous teams focused on Detroit.

“It’s somewhere you can actually go physically and make a difference and see the results in the moment,” Lynn added. “You can see the impact right away.”

However, this year, students focused on the local community and the University. Other students had a global point-of-view.

For example, Blueprints for Pangaea seeks to reallocate medical supplies to low resource areas in Ghana, intending to expand to other nations. STARR Movement, whose founders attend University of Michigan ¬– Dearborn, provide mentorship to area students who are failing school.

Information graduate student Tim Pituch, who is pursuing a degree in health informatics, founded optiMize with University alum Jeff Sorensen.

Pituch said the group has grown significantly since its inception just over a year ago. More than twice as many students applied to the challenge this year, more workshops were offered to contestants and funding increased from $26,000 to $33,000.

Sorensen added that the connections within the group itself have continued to expand as past finalists choose to stay involved.

The group hopes to allow more teams the opportunity to present their ideas and gain representation among more University colleges.

In addition to maintaining an expanding network of past and current teams, optiMize Social Innovation is offering four minicourses in “critical issues” for the Fall 2014 semester. They will focus on education, health, energy, environment and Detroit.

Buisness graduate student Chris Roszell, who is in his first year of the Master of Entrepreneurship Program, is a member in the Social Innovation group. He said the courses supports the group’s mission.

“The program is unique in that it brings together students from such a diverse range of academic backgrounds,” said Roszell. “All of these creative ideas and thoughts to really affect positive change in our communities around us, and even across the state and country.”

—LSA freshman Margo Levy contributed to this report.