The Georgetown Entrepreneurship Initiative and StartupHoyas hosted the annual Entrepalooza event in the Healey Family Student Center last Tuesday, where blood stem cell registry startup Hemeos received the first-place grand prize of $10,000 in the StartupHoyas Challenge.
The challenge, which is StartupHoyas’ largest and final competition of the year, featured eight finalists who delivered six-minute pitches to a judging panel consisting of various Georgetown alumni and industry leaders.
John Fernandez (GRD ’16), Doug Grant (GRD ’16) and Craig Poland (GRD ’16) founded Hemeos last year to create a cheaper, more efficient way of connecting blood stem cell donors with patients, with a focus on recruiting minority donors.
The preliminary round for the competition had about 80 competitors—the most in the history of the competition—and featured undergraduate and graduate students from a wide variety of schools and majors.
Beatrice Fabris (COL ’16), student body leader of StartupHoyas, expressed pride for the group’s accomplishments at the event.
“I am genuinely so, so proud of everything this organization has become, and as incredible as it is today, we’re only at the very start of the wave,” Fabris said. “Entrepreneurship has become contagious at Georgetown in a very fresh, new but also accessible way.”
The judges awarded the second place prize of $5,000 to Freeda, a startup founded by Megan Mizar (MBA ’16) that designs dolls to promote diversity, positive body image and career exploration for young girls. The startup PopHotel earned 3rd place for $2,000.
The People’s Choice and Social Impact awards for $1,000 were determined by audience vote, and were given to Hemeos and Freeda. The other five finalists received $500 prizes from StartupHoyas.
During his pitch, Grant described that the inefficiency and resulting inequitable, negative effects of the current stem cell donor system—the National Marrow Donor Program—pushed him to start Hemeos.
“There’s over 2,000 people who can’t find a donor in the registry a year, and this results in over 1,000 deaths per year,” Grant said. “This disproportionally affects minority donors—one in three minority patients are unable to find a donor.”
Grant explained that Hemeos plans on using the $10,000 award to fund proprietary software that will help Hemeos expand its donor base from thousands to hundreds of thousands of people.
“We plan on financing our IT, we have a proprietary software that were licensing and were going to use this money for that,” Grant said. “This is huge for us.”
John Lisciandro, director of business valuation at Deloitte and one of the judges, believed that Hemeos earned first place due to its extensive detail and ability to satisfy a consumer need.
“I think for me at least they were very well prepared, had done their research, had a very unique idea, had a position in the market that really couldn’t be copied for a long time, and seemed to fill a need medically that was leading people to lose their lives,” Lisciandro said. “They had some big name hospitals that they had already won as customers, which always helps.”
Five students from the preliminary rounds came up onto the stage to receive $100 checks for the Honorable Mention awards.
During the event, Peter Mellen (CAS ’89), board member of the Georgetown Entrepreneurship Alliance, presented the Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Awards to David Fogel (. The award honors alumni who have achieved significant success in innovation and company growth and have contributed to the Georgetown entrepreneurial community.
StartupHoyas will host a Summer Launch Program for students who remain in Washington, D.C. over the summer. The program will give students an opportunity to develop their ideas further and take advantage of the opportunities present in D.C.
Lina Zdruli (GRD ’18), a student who attended the event, expressed skepticism about the general enthusiasm surrounding startups and cited the advantage of working within established companies.
“Entrepreneurship is the new buzzword,” Zdruli said. “To be honest, I think a lot of people feel pushed into having to startup something, but sometimes there’s more value in being part of a larger organization.”
Sam Bernstein (COL ’18), a member of StartupHoyas, thought the event went well and thanked faculty members for their support.
“We saw a lot of fantastic pitches from both undergraduate and graduate students, and I just want to add that this whole event wouldn’t have been possible without the support of Jeff Reid and Alyssa Lovegrove,” Bernstein said. “They’re really the ones driving StartupHoyas and the core of the entrepreneurship initiative as well.”