2023 Morgenthaler-Pavey Startup Competition awards ventures, ideas and research at the inaugural event in think[box] Community Floor

Woman clapping in an audience

This article was first published in CWRU's The Daily.

On April 11, the Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship hosted the 2023 Morgenthaler-Pavey Startup Competition (MSPC) with an energetic crowd and an inspiring group of students and alumni pitching their projects for the chance to win funding from a pool of $45,000.

In the first event to take place on the brand new Community Floor of Sears think[box], 20 finalist teams pitched their ventures, ideas and research to audience members and judges in four separate tracks: Venture, Idea, and the new-to-2023 tracks Research and Social Impact.

Prior to pitch night, applicants submitted their projects to the track of their choice, and were accepted as finalists based on a rubric scored by external evaluators. Leading up to April 11, the Veale Institute hosted a number of Skills Labs, entrepreneurial programming events that covered topics such as SWOT analysis, business financials, building a pitch deck and branding.

This year nearly double the amount of applications were submitted to the competition. Each of the competition tracks had a group of esteemed judges representing industries and companies from Google to Cleveland Clinic Ventures. All of the judges volunteered their time, providing a numeric score and commentary to each finalist team.

The judges, listed in alphabetical order, were:

  • James Artis (MGT ’21), co-founder and chief strategy officer at Observation Group;
  • Cathy (Nelson) Belk, president and CEO of Deaconess Foundation;
  • Susann Brady-Kalnay, professor at CWRU School of Medicine;
  • Ariana Cubela, global program manager at Google;
  • Doug DeGirolamo, business systems consultant at Progressive Insurance;
  • Kaleigh Gallagher, vice president of tech services and network management at Jumpstart;
  • Azadeh Hardiman, business leader at Level 20;
  • Michael Hill (GRS ’89, biomedical engineering; GRS ’92, biomedical engineering), global head of science and technology and innovation at Science Innovations;
  • Timothy Hinton, program coordinator at Bounce Innovation Hub;
  • Ali King, director of Burton D. Morgan Mentoring at Jumpstart;
  • Isabelle Bolton King, business strategy consultant;
  • Jennifer LaClair, chief financial officer at Ally Financial;
  • Jing Lyon (CWR ’16), entrepreneur programs director at BRITE;
  • Lauren Mercedes Nelson (MGT ’18), product strategist at Level20;
  • McKelvey Packard (CWR ’14, MEM ’15), chief operating officer at EveryKey;
  • Jon Snyder, managing director of investor relations at Ohio Life Sciences;
  • Charles Stack (LAW ’82), innovation consultant at Flashstarts Inc.;
  • William Tavel (CWR ’17, MGT ’18), health and education industry associate at IFC; and
  • Kelli P. Washington, managing director of research and investment strategy at Cleveland Clinic.

The competition included a lively networking hour and a chance to sample food from local entrepreneurs Redheart (Michael Zhou and Danny Lee) and Smokin’ Bettie’s BBQ Sauces (David Ball), along with options from Bon Appétit Management Co.

“As a foreign female researcher, I was motivated to participate in the competition due to the groundbreaking impact of my research in uplifting the quality of life for women in underrepresented minorities,” said Ilaha Isali, a full-time research associate at School of Medicine whose project, Bladder Patch for the Treatment of Obstetric Fistula, was awarded $3,000 and first place in a tie for the Research Track.

Jennings Luu, a MD-PhD candidate/fellow in the Medical Scientist Training Program, submitted the other Research Track project that tied for first place. He said “having the opportunity to speak in front of an audience and engage directly with others through our shared spirit of entrepreneurship made this award especially meaningful.” 

Luu’s project, Hyperion Therapeutics Inc., addresses an urgent, unmet clinical need for ophthalmic medications that effectively slow or prevent the onset of visual impairment, especially during early stages of age-related or inherited retinal disease. No FDA-approved treatment options currently are available. He said the $3,000 he was awarded “will help our startup tremendously in advancing through the initial stages of procuring seed capital investments and grant funding.

“Hopefully, [the money] will represent the first of many milestones met on our path to commercializing novel, accessible therapies for the treatment or prevention of our world’s leading causes of blindness.”

The Venture Track was especially competitive, with five teams presenting current ventures that have been operating in business.

One of the prize winners in the Venture Track was Franco Kraiselburd, a 2022-23 Veale Snyder Fellow, biomedical engineering major and CEO and co-founder of Asclepii. His project tied for second place and was awarded $5,000, along with Lighthanded Enterprises, a think[box] resident venture presented by Steven Burns (CWR ’11, MEM ’11) and Matthew McPheeters (CWR ’12; GRS ’13, biomedical engineering; GRS ’21, biomedical engineering).

“As the only undergraduates competing, we felt incredibly grateful to have placed so well among very impressive companies with great traction,” Kraiselburd said. “Winning a prize at MPSC felt incredibly rewarding as we put in a lot of time and effort into the presentation!

“The money will be directly allocated to fast-tracking a regulatory pipeline with the FDA, a project that we’ve been envisioning for a while. The prize money will allow us to begin this legal process and gain approval for several other products in our pipeline.”

New to the 2023 competition was the Social Impact Track, which encouraged applicants to address a critical social problem with an ethical, sustainable and marketable solution. The track, which was inspired by the Veale Institute’s relationship with the Fowler Center for Business as an Agent of World Benefit and ThinkImpact, had over a dozen applicants and awarded two winning teams $5,000 and $1,000, respectively.

The first-place winner for this track was Ibrahim Quagraine, a biomedical engineering PhD student planning to graduate in 2026. His company, Cocoa Potash, is a Ghana-based venture that seeks to protect the environment and help alleviate poverty through recycling agricultural waste to produce caustic potash and other potash-derived products.

“Winning the MPSC first prize in the social impact track was an exciting moment,” he says. “We received funding for our venture that will enable us to expand our production capacity, distribution channels, and to train and engage additional women/youth groups in more Cocoa growing communities.”

The Veale Institute for Entrepreneurship team, along with colleagues from LaunchNET and think[box], congratulates all of the finalists and winners of the 2023 Morgenthaler-Pavey Startup Competition.

The winners are listed below.

Research Track Winners

First place (tie)

  • Hyperion Therapeutics: $3,000 awarded to Jennings Luu
  • Bladder Patch for Treatment of Obstetric Fistula: $3,000 awarded to Ilaha Isali

Second place

  • Voice Analytics for Pathology Tracking: $1,000 awarded to Millan Patel

Social Impact Track Winners

First place

Second place

Idea Track Winners

First place (tie)

Venture Track Winners

First place

Second place (tie)