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Baker Institute Events Highlight Top Entrepreneurial Talent at Lehigh University

By Colin McEvoy on April 19, 2021

Justin Gelwicks of WoodGoods Lacrosse speaking during the Innovate: Thalheimer Grand Prize & People’s Choice Competition.

The Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity, and Innovation continues to highlight the top entrepreneurial talent at Lehigh University, providing them a platform to shine during two virtual events this month.

The first, held on April 14, was the Innovate: Thalheimer Grand Prize & People’s Choice Competition, in which three student venture projects who had advanced the furthest from the monthly EUREKA! Pitch Nights competed for the top prizes.

The second, which will be held April 21, is the Celebrate: Baker Institute Annual Awards Ceremony. It will recognize entrepreneurial excellence in Lehigh students, faculty, and alumni. Visit here for more information or to register for this event.

The three students that participated in the Innovate event had been pitching, winning, and advancing their projects to panels of professionals during the monthly EUREKA! Events. All three pitched and won at Stage 3, where their ideas had been prototyped and had clear externally-validated rationale, both technically and financially.

Brian Quispe and Graham Petterson won the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 Grand Prize of $5,000 for their project, Ocutrap, which seeks to make animal trap monitoring, managing, and control easier than ever.

“Ocutrap is disrupting an age old industry model of trapping animals,” said Alita Friedman, founder and CEO of Alita’s Brand Bar, and one of the panel judges for the event. “They found a way to innovate by incorporating technology and AI into trapping which includes both identification of animals and their capture/release on a timely basis. As entrepreneurs, they are both solving problems and introducing a ‘better mousetrap.’”

In accepting the award, Quispe acknowledged how Baker, Lehigh University, and the Lehigh Valley entrepreneurial community at large has provided the resources and guidance needed for his success. He had previously participated in the Hatchery, Baker’s full-time summer entrepreneurship immersion program.

“We’ve come a long way since the Hatchery and I just want to thank a lot of people for guiding us through this entire journey and as well as our business mentor, Stephen Goldthwaite, who’s been an instrumental part of Ocutrap,” Quispe said.

The other two finalists who participated in the Innovate competition were Sareena Karim, whose project Foli-Q featured custom hair products that are unique to each user, and Michael Rich, whose project Streamlined uses adjustable software templates to provide small businesses with affordable, semi-customizable software.

Neither went home empty-handed. Rich was awarded the John and Joan Thalheimer Award for Student Achievement and $1,000 for being the student who won the most resources during the school year. Karim was awarded $1,000 and the Michael Levin ‘87 Advanced Technology Award, which goes to an engineering student developing new technologies.

Each of the finalists created a five-minute pitch video that outlined why their projects were deserving of the grand prize. In addition to the video’s, the finalists were interviewed by this year’s judges, which included Friedman, Lehigh University President John Simon, and Dom Allen, who was on the team that won the 2019 Thalheimer Grand Prize for the project Preff.

“I was looking for the team I believe has the best chance at succeeding in the market,” Allen said. “This is made up of several factors, such as domain expertise and connections, understanding the customer, ability to articulate financials, and, in the words of several Lehigh ENTP Professors, how well they ‘get out there and do it.’”

Additionally, the event audience directly participated by voting in the People’s Choice competition. This was open to any student who participated in the EUREKA! monthly pitch events and included seven short videos from students still actively pursuing venture projects.

Two students won this competition and were awarded $1,000 each: Emma Kwasnoski, whose project Advocan strives to reimagine the pelvic exam experience, and Justin Gelwicks, whose WoodGoods Lacrosse makes personalized, durable wooden lacrosse shafts.

“I’ve been working on this project throughout the Technical Entrepreneurship Master’s Capstone, so it really means a lot to have the support from Baker for this,” Kwasnoski said.

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