Student Entrepreneurs Successful at both Techstars Startup Weekend Remote USA and Hult Prize Regional Competitions

A group of five Syracuse University students and one alumni, all active members of the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at Syracuse University Libraries (LaunchPad), were selected as a top ten team in the east division at the Techstars Startup Weekend Remote USA (Techstars) event held online from April 24 through 26. In a separate online competition held over the same weekend, Justin Diaz ’23 (Engineering and Computer Science) was selected as one of the top six regional finalists for the Hult Prize Toronto global regional.

The Techstars competition included over 1,000 participants working over 54 hours to develop solutions that would directly tackle COVID-19 related challenges. Division finalists moved on to the national competition. The SU team was comprised of Matt Shumer ’22 (Whitman), Sam Hollander ’22 (Whitman and Newhouse), David Adler ’22 (VPA), Miles Feldstein ’23 (Whitman), Claire Howard ’23 (Maxwell), and Brian Kam ’16 (Maxwell). They created a solution called Global CoPower, which addresses the scientific challenge to harness massive distributed computing power to process vast information, using extraction and analysis, in the race to tackle COVID-19. With more computing power, researchers can design therapeutics faster. Global CoPower is an application integration that enables the addition of code to other apps, allowing users to donate unused cell phone capacity to these initiatives.

Diaz, founder of EcoBamboo Living, was selected as a finalist for the Hult Prize, a prestigious impact entrepreneurship competition.  More than 5,000 students compete in regional summits held in 60 major international cities. The winner of each regional summit receives an invitation to attend the 2020 Hult Prize Global Accelerator to compete for the $1 million Hult grand prize. This year Hult Prize challenge was climate change and sustainability. Diaz created a compelling and heartfelt submission that not only addressed the problem, solution, target market, business model, path to market, and strategic partners, but included his human personal experiences to make a compelling case.

EcoBamboo Living is an innovative construction company that designs and builds affordable, beautiful, and sustainable structures for the residential and commercial sector. Using bamboo for construction has many advantages: it is strong, can be grown and harvested faster and more sustainably than hardwoods, is more affordable, and tackles deforestation and climate change through creating a positive carbon footprint. Diaz is already working with Syracuse advisors, architect Pete King of King + King Architects and commercial real estate developer Steve Case, on plans for his first bamboo “tiny home” as a demonstration project.  From there, he plans to develop a line of affordable modular homes constructed with bamboo timber.

“Being part of the Hult Prize and being selected as one of the top six teams at the Toronto regional competition, shows me the potential this idea has moving through my next three years in college,” says Diaz. “The LaunchPad family believed in me from the start. Then they continued to guide me in the right direction.  The culture there gave me the energy, motivation and inspiration to keep challenging myself, supported by guidance from that community.”

In reflecting on the Techstars competition, Shumer said, “Our team was driven. We went from many ideas to customer discovery, iteration, and complete pivots.  When we arrived at the ultimate solution, we raced against an impossible timeclock to execute it.  We were able to accomplish so much because we had diversified skill sets that allowed each of us to run full speed independently, while working within a team framework.  Early on, we decided we wanted to do something that would create a meaningful impact.  That’s what kept us motivated and focused.”

About the Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars at Syracuse University Libraries:

The Blackstone LaunchPad in Bird Library is Syracuse University’s innovation hub, connecting the entire University’s resource-rich ecosystem with a global network that provides support for aspiring entrepreneurs, inventors, and creators. The program serves faculty, staff, students, and alumni across disciplines who are interested in venture creation and taking ideas for products, services, or technologies from concept to commercialization. The program prepares participants to be trailblazers in an entrepreneurial world.

Cristina Hatem