Venture Wins $31,000 in the 2021 Innovation Challenge Final
April 19, 2021
Five student-led startup teams competed in the final round of the four-part Innovation Challenge on April 7, presenting five-minute pitches and answering the judges’ questions via Zoom in a virtual event hosted by the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship.
The biggest winner was Nutriply, which was awarded $31,000 in equity-free funding. Founder Minqi Wang, a post-doctoral research assistant in food science, explained to the judges that her venture promotes technologies that allow encapsulation of dietary supplements such as probiotics, to protect the key components from degradation during manufacturing and digestion.
The judges awarded $16,000 to each of two other ventures:
rStream Recycling, led by Ian Goodine and Ethan Walko (both senior mechanical engineering students) leverages artificial intelligence to create lower-cost sorting and collection methods of keeping plastic out of landfills.
Qualtags, founded by Isenberg operations and information management junior Harsha Prakki, uses small, low-cost tags on packaged items sold by the food and beverage industry to provide end-to-end supply chain monitoring.
Two other ventures, Traditional Hockey and MicrobeBlaster did not win extra funding at the Innovation Challenge Final, but were granted $1,000 apiece for earning a place in the competition.
The decisions about how much funding went to each venture were made by a panel of judges with expertise in the startup world:
Douglas Berthiaume graduated from Isenberg in 1971 with an accounting degree. In 1994, when he was president of the Waters Division of Millipore, he used funding from Bain Capital to purchase Waters, which he took public the next year; he remained CEO and chairman of Waters until 2017. In 2014, he and his wife Diana donated $10 million to UMass Amherst to create their namesake Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship.
Tom Heiser graduated from Isenberg in 1984 with an accounting degree and has served as chairman/CEO of four private-equity backed companies. He is currently executive chairman of Mark43, a venture-backed public-safety cloud company, and chairman of the board at Acoustic, a private-equity-backed marketing cloud company.
Carolina Orbea is director of the Miami/Fort Lauderdale area office of EY-Parthenon, and has experience in carve-outs and integration transactions.
The event also featured a keynote presentation from special guest MelissaCastro '09 (BDIC marketing and communications), the business development director at Commonwealth Kitchen, Greater Boston’s food business incubator. The group’s mission is to build a new food economy grounded in racial, social, and economic justice, and Castro described leveraging entrepreneurship to combat the widening wealth gap.