Whitman Takes Competitions Virtual
The pandemic has hindered many students from traveling to business competitions. However, at the Whitman School, undergraduate seniors were able to complete their spring 2020 capstone with a virtual pitch competition. Graduate students were also able to participate in a regional case competition.
Spring 2020 Capstone Competition: Global Pandemic Edition
Each semester, graduating seniors at the Whitman School complete their undergraduate degrees with the 3 credit Strategic and Entrepreneurial Management course, more commonly known as “capstone.” Students form teams of four or five to turn an original business idea into reality by pitching a for-profit business plan to a panel of judges. Throughout the semester, students learn real-world skills to understand how to launch a startup and tackle 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. “Even though there were 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.”
Even though there were time-zone distractions, these students worked virtually to create a work product to be proud of. I was really impressed by that."
Professor of Entrepreneurial Practice
Although students usually present their business plans in-person to a panel of community judges, this semester’s competition was conducted virtually due to stay-at-home orders.
On April 24, 2020, 61 teams submitted recorded presentations of their business plans 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.”
However, even though the spring 2020 capstone competition was not in a classroom, students worked hard to present the results of three months of research, concept development, exploration and financial planning.
In first place came Team Mediguardian, consisting of Megan Neuman ’20, Ryan Houck ’20, Josh Konowitz ’20, Jiebin (Alex) Zhu ’20 and Meilin Feng ’20, who worked with faculty advisor Kostakis. MediGuardian is a data sharing app that provides live health status updates for Type 1 diabetics. By signing up for a subscription service, users can share status updates to reassure their loved ones of their health and safety.
“My favorite part was making the judges’ videos and the digital finals,” says team member Neuman. “Although this was unexpected 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.”
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.
My favorite part of the project was being able to see how our project evolved from an idea into a business."
Sarah Ferranti ’20
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 tried many different ideas 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.”
Team Wrap N’ Roll came in third place with members Julia Soranno ’20, Peter Mignacca ’20, Jonathan Corcos ’20, Jessica Cohen ’20 and Noah Marek ’20, under the supervision of Kostakis. 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 others, Team Wrap N’ Roll 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 all the hard work we dedicated to this project.”
In addition to the top three finalists, two teams received honorable mentions. Team Snooze Solutions placed fourth with a melatonin fruit strip for those who have trouble falling asleep. In fifth place was Team H2Glo, a product that can test water quality to determine if it is free of harmful contaminants.
Despite unprecedented circumstances, the teams persevered, and students are now more prepared than ever as future entrepreneurs. All 61 teams not only fulfilled their capstone requirements but gained something much greater than 3 credits — an invaluable experience.
Master’s Students Place 3rd in Regional Case Competition
The first annual Graduate Business Thruway Invitational Case Competition was held April 17 and 18, 2020, via Zoom. Hosted by the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester, it featured three teams each from SUNY Buffalo, University of Rochester and the Whitman School. One of the Whitman teams placed third in the business analytical competition. The Whitman team included James Coleman ’21 MBA; Sabina Seredneva ’21 MBA; Roland Lindmayer ’22 JD/MBA; and Kaan Canayaz ’21 M.S.
“This was my first case competition since starting my MBA,” says Coleman. “Despite the physical event being canceled due to COVID-19, it was still an excellent experience working and presenting over Zoom. We had the chance to network a bit with other graduate students. We were also able to speak with the three judges who provided thorough feedback and tips they’ve gathered from their own diverse experiences.”
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