Hundreds of visitors came out to the Stevens Institute of Technology campus to attend this year’s Innovation Expo, despite the less than ideal weather conditions. They joined the Stevens community in support of the student innovators who presented their bold research and business ideas to local and national entrepreneurs. The annual campus event, organized by the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, has always been a showcase of the creativity and problem-solving capabilities of interdisciplinary student teams that reflect the university’s academic approach to science, engineering, business and humanities.
Stevens Provost George Korfiatis kicked off the day-long “celebration” of technology, saying that “the spirit of technology and innovation is alive at Stevens.” Stevens President Nariman Farvardin then addressed the crowd, remarking that institutes of higher education have a major responsibility in contributing to the country’s total output in innovation.
The student pitch competitions—Project Plan Pitch and Elevator Pitch—have always been crowd pleasers, and this year was no different. Audience members at Stevens’ DeBaun Auditorium were immediately engaged, thanks to this year’s moderator—Aaron Price, cofounder of livecube.co, which is billed as “the world’s most engaging event app.” He immediately involved the audience by encouraging attendees to visit stevens.livecubeapp.com to add their comments, and to retweet them throughout the competition. Price is also the founder of the NJ Tech Meetup, the largest technology community in New Jersey, and one that meets monthly on the Stevens campus. The Hoboken resident thanked Stevens for its ongoing support of new entrepreneurs, saying, “I appreciate that Stevens has become such a friend of the entrepreneurial community.”
Scored on two criteria—presentation and feasibility—each competition featured eight teams. The panel of judges for both competitions comprised entrepreneurs, CEOs and venture capitalists. The winning team in each competition won $3,000. Second and third place finishers earned $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.
The winner of the Project Plan Pitch competition was team POWER for its plan to convert food waste into usable byproducts such as biogas and nutrient-rich compost. Team members Ann Aquilina, Christopher Ariante, David J. D’Agostino, Sean Devlin, Clara Luneke, Sarah McDonald, Grace Ridge and Salvatore Spinella designed the unique system for implementation in the main dining hall at Stevens. Coming in second, team iAgua offered up a solar-powered plan for distributing agricultural water in locations facing economic water scarcity. Team iAgua, made up of Samantha Burdett, Michael Cepeda, Amro Elhalim, Laura Josephson, Curt Lowenstein, Christopher Portillo and Nathalie Ramos, designed a global model that will be used in a pilot program in Ecuador. The Interactive Flood Wall (IFW) team rounded out the top three with a plan to create an economical and resident-friendly flood plan for Hoboken and Jersey City. Laura Lemke, Megan Lisbon, Luke Niezelski, Elif Sipcikoglu and Barry Travis designed IFW as a direct response to the flood damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
In the Elevator Plan Pitch competition, team VEHSHI garnered first place for its design of a system that would monitor bridge safety. Team members Mark Conticchio, Jospeh Gombar, Diana Jandreski, John Murphy, Curtis Stecyk and Lisa Tessitore designed the plan with the 2007 Minneapolic bridge collapse in mind. The judges had a difficult time placing the runners-up. As a result, Simplified Landfill Solutions and Hummingbird First Response tied for second place. The team of Simplified Landfill Solutions, made up of Gregory Chrin, Steven Orciuolo, Jr., Kelly Martin and Brian Filipowicz, designed a plan to increase the recovery of landfill gas. The team of Hummingbird First Response, made up of Sylvana Azana, David Christofalo, Gregory Corradi, Ruby Romero, Shota Tasaki and David Thomasevich, pitched an unmanned aerial system to aid first responders in capturing real-time data about a disaster area or damaged structure.
The speaker of the first of two lectures—the Thomas H. Scholl Lecture by Visiting Entrepreneurs—was the man for whom the lecture was named. Having been involved with 45 startup companies, Scholl was more than qualified to give a talk on “Building Companies from Scratch: There are Many Paths to Success, but there is a Super-Highway to Failure.” Scholl, who is also a member of the Stevens Board of Trustees, said success is about much more than starting a company, adding that success involves keeping a company liquid and making money for its shareholders. Although he cautioned entrepreneurs against making “outrageous, over-the-top mistakes,” he encouraged bold action, saying, “when it comes to starting a company, don’t be too timid.”
The second lecture featured a homecoming of sorts. Dr. Domenico Grasso is the current Provost of the University of Delaware, but he began his career in academia at Stevens, where he was an assistant professor from 1987 to 1988. Expressing his delight to be back at Stevens, where “he got his start,” Dr. Grasso addressed the “The Future of the American Research University.” Over the course of his speech, Dr. Grasso lamented the decline in public support for higher education, which he observed is increasingly viewed by society as a private benefit, rather than a public good. That perception, he said, is reflected in the reduced funding, both at the federal and state levels, for research universities. In New Jersey, he said, public aid is down 13 percent from 2011. The decline is especially worrisome, he added, when compared to the increased spending on higher education by other countries.
The audience at DeBaun Auditorium was then treated to a surprise announcement by Jim Tousignant, executive vice president of sales & business development at Scivantage. Taking the stage, Tousignant announced that Scivantage is partnering with Stevens to create a 12-week incubator program with a focus on financial technology. Selected participants would receive extensive mentoring, up to $25,000 in seed money, and access to the great resources of the Stevens campus. More information about the Scivantage FinTech Incubator Program is available at scivantageincubator.com.
Later in the afternoon, four research presentations at the Lawrence T. Babbio, Jr. Center for Technology Management offered a snapshot of the ground-breaking research projects taking place at Stevens. Dr. William Rouse, Dr. Mo Mansouri, Professor John Nastasi and Dr. Peter Tolias, spoke about the design and delivery of effective healthcare systems, energy solutions and the sustainability of urban and coastal communities.
Stevens’ Innovation Expo 2014 concluded with a public display of Senior Design Projects, including those featured in the Project Plan Pitch and Elevator Pitch competitions. Visitors had the opportunity to see up close the creativity of student and faculty put to work as they try to solve some of the most pressing and significant problems of our time. Spread out over three pavilions on the Stevens campus, the senior project expo featured innovations that targeted community, business, defense and security, education and the arts, energy, healthcare, manufacturing, robotics and transportation. Student innovators were kept busy for nearly three hours speaking with interested guests who wanted to learn more about their creations.
One team designed a plan for low-cost robotic forklifts that would increase productivity and increase output at large-scale manufacturing facilities.
Another designed a low-cost drone system that would cut down on pilot training time.
There was also a restoration project involving the historic Mount Beacon Incline Railway in Fishkill, New York. Stevens students developed a redesign that not only preserves the historic design, but is energy efficient and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
To become involved in supporting next year’s Stevens Innovation Expo, please contact the Office of Innovation & Entrepreneurship.