Fall 2020 Capstone Competition: Meet the Winners

As the Fall 2020 semester comes to an end, seniors at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management completed a three-credit Strategic and Entrepreneurial Management course, more commonly known as “Capstone.” This course is designed to inspire graduating students’ entrepreneurial spirit and teach tangible skills. Its final product is a persuasive and profitable business plan for an entirely novel good or service. Ultimately, the practical skills and heightened business insight gained from the course help launch students into the professional world to better understand what it takes to create a startup business, division or product.

Although students usually present their business plans in-person to a group of judges, this semester’s competition was conducted virtually due to COVID-19 and University guidelines.

After three months of creation, concept development, exploration and financial planning, 64 student teams delivered live virtual presentations of their business plan for judges to view. Those 64 teams then had to answer 10 minutes of challenging questions posed by those same judges. Thirteen teams advanced by winning their initial room competition, and those teams were narrowed down to five finalists who advanced to the final round to present their capstone projects.

“Our capstone students were impressive. They impressed their faculty, and the competition’s judges,” says Ken Walsleben, faculty capstone advisor and professor of entrepreneurial practice. “Every judge I spoke with was amazed at the quality of the presentations and the innovative nature of student business concepts. Regardless of the many complications put before students this semester, our ‘Capstoners’ rose to every challenge. They have a lot to be proud of! I think there’s a bit of entrepreneurial can-do spirit in every one of them.”

In first place, under the direction of Walsleben, Nayeera Abdullah ’21, Liam Malachowski ’21, Brian Repp ’21, Erin Talley ’21 and Jordan White ’21 created Vaulted Cards. Vaulted Cards delivers a one-stop-shop for buyers and sellers of sports trading cards and collectible cards. By taking custody and authenticating the cards, Vaulted Cards assists the buyer and seller to gain trusted liquidity in their market.

“My favorite part about the competition was getting to present in front of a panel of judges who work outside of Whitman and have experience in different fields of business,” says team member Malachowski. “After spending the semester receiving feedback from our professor, who teaches the course every year, it was really interesting to get more ‘real world’ perspectives and criticisms.”

The second place team, Meghan Cherry ’21, Blake Cohen ’21, Scott Mueller ’21, Michelle Truong ’21 and Michael Wood ’21, created Dyscrete, a browser extension that uses natural language processing technology to evaluate websites’ terms and conditions to inform users of possible areas of concern. This team was advised by Tamara Demeree, adjunct faculty.

PawsOff came in third place with team members Manal El-Hindi ’21, Lauren Hurwitz ’21, Erik Rimer ’21, Olivia Vinciguerra ’21 and Elias Zaoutis ’21, under the supervision of John Torrens, deputy department chair and professor of entrepreneurial practice. PawsOff uses Bluetooth and Near Field Communication (NFC) in a “tile-like” device used to train new pets to stay off and away from objects and areas the owner does not want the pet to be near.

In addition to the top three finalists, two teams received honorable mentions: Censosafe, created by Margaret Dude ’21, Kaitlyn Gnall ’21, Brianna Kurtin ’21, Kristopher Markert ’21 and Paul Tedeschi ’21, and advised by Mirza Tihic, postdoctoral researcher and adjunct faculty; and ONCO created by Elizabeth Garrahy ’21, Matt Lindsay ’21, Ava Notkin ’21, Slater Ward-Diorio ’21 and Chris White ’21, and advised by Professor Demeree.

The capstone experience prepares students for life after Whitman and jobs in the business field. First place team winner Malachowski adds, “The experience has prepared me for post-graduation in a number of ways. I got a unique and deep insight into the basic structure of any business and how it functions, while also learning to work closely with a team towards a larger goal over the course of a few months. Putting together a pitch and presenting in front of judges was a unique experience for me, and it prepared me for similar pitches I might have in my professional career.”

Learn more about past capstone winners and their topics.

Kimmy Kimball