Spring 2020 Capstone Competition: Global Pandemic Edition

Each semester, graduating students at Syracuse University’s Martin J. Whitman School of Management complete their undergraduate degrees with the three-credit Strategic and Entrepreneurial Management course, more commonly known as “capstone.” Students form teams of four or five students to turn an original business idea into a reality by pitching a for-profit business plan to a panel of judges. Throughout the semester, students learn real-world skills they will use in the field to understand how to launch a startup and all the elements that go into it.

“Despite the distance-learning complication, student teams in capstone kept chugging forward,” says Ken Walsleben, faculty capstone advisor and professor of entrepreneurial practice. “Despite the time-zone distractions, these students worked virtually to create a work product to be proud of. I was really impressed by that…they continued to fight through obstacles to ensure they didn’t let their teammates down.”

Although students usually present their business plan in-person to a community of judges, this semester’s business plan competition was conducted virtually due to COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders.

On April 24, 61 student teams submitted recorded presentations of their business plan for judges to review. The next day, five finalist teams advanced to the live round to present their capstone projects via Zoom. 

“It was challenging to say the least,” says Alexandra Kostakis, capstone faculty advisor and professor of entrepreneurial practice. “Nothing can replace being in the same room with your team and professor.” 

Even though the Spring 2020 capstone competition was not in a classroom like years past, students continued to work hard to present their three months of creation, concept development, exploration and financial planning. The results from this semester’s competition are in.

In first place, Megan Neuman ’20, Ryan Houck ’20, Josh Konowitz ’20, Jiebin (Alex) Zhu ’20, and Meilin Feng ’20 developed Mediguardian under faculty advisor Kostakis. MediGuardian is a live data sharing app that shares live updates of a Type 1 diabetics health status. Through a subscription, users can be reassured of their loved ones’ health and safety.

“My favorite part of capstone was making the judges’ videos and the digital finals,” says team member Neuman. “Although this was an unexpected part of capstone this semester, it made capstone unique and it’s very cool to say I was able to be a part of it. For every Whitman student, capstone is a cornerstone of our experience and the professors did an amazing job of preparing us and creating a memorable experience.” 

The second place team, under the direction of Walsleben, created ALMOsugar, a liquid sugar alternative to high fructose corn syrup that is extracted from waste almond hulls. Sarah Ferranti ’20, Jack Benedict ’20, Ken Hubbard ’20, Alexandra Nissan ’20 and Seung Min Park ’20 collaborated to find both an all-natural sugar alternative and a way to recycle almond hulls.

Ferranti says, “My favorite part of the project was being able to see how our project evolved from an idea into a business. We spent weeks and many different ideas trying to figure out our project direction at the beginning of the semester. It was a very exciting moment when we finally got our idea approved and could start on the research.”

Wrap N’ Roll came in third place with team members Julia Soranno ’20, Peter Mignacca ’20, Jonathan Corcos ’20, Jessica Cohen ’20 and Noah Marek ’20 and, under the supervision of Kostakis, the Wrap N’ Roll is a vacuum-operated towel that can suck water away from your head and hair after a shower or bath. The product prevents hair damage by replacing heat with vacuum pressure.

Similar to the other teams, Soranno and her team learned to adapt to online learning quickly in order to complete the project. 

“Having to switch to distance learning halfway through the semester presented some challenges. This is definitely a difficult project to work on in a vacuum and it required a lot of effort from all my teammate,” Soranno says. “We all worked so well together and put our heads together to overcome the challenges that were presented to us. My team members have now become lifelong friends and I am so proud of us and all the hard work we dedicated to this project.” 

In addition to the top three finalists, two teams received honorable mentions. Snooze Solutions placed fourth with a melatonin fruit strip for those who have trouble falling asleep at night. In fifth place was H2Glo, a product that can test water quality to determine whether or not it is free of harmful contaminants.

Despite unprecedented circumstances for the competing students and their faculty advisors, the capstone competition persevered and students are now more prepared than ever for their future in the entrepreneurial world. All 61 teams have not only fulfilled their capstone requirement but gained something much greater than three credits: an invaluable experience.

“Whitman’s capstone is designed to be the culmination of four years of rigorous coursework and academic experience; it really challenges you to pull from everything you have learned,” says Neuman. “That is why the most important part of capstone is your fellow team members. I was privileged to be a part of a team of students from diverse backgrounds who were all committed to our project.”

Learn more about past capstone winners and their topics.

Karley Warden