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Lehigh University Students Display Startup Ideas at Hatchery Demo Day

By Colin McEvoy on August 10, 2018

While attending an Environmental Planning for Healthy Cities class at Lehigh University, Emma Hillman learned many cities lacked proper data when it comes to monitoring home health and reducing home environment asthma triggers.

The 20-year-old had the idea to start her own company providing such monitoring to help renters affordably reduce the risk of respiratory problems and allow cities to track real-time data and allocate resources to deal with it.

At first, it was just an idea, but then she joined the Hatchery, Lehigh’s full-time summer entrepreneurship immersion program. It led her to meeting students with similar interests, connected her with three mentors, and allowed her to devote full-time attention to developing her idea.

“If I had just gone home and said ‘I’m going to start this’ without any help, I don’t know how it would have gone,” said Hillman, who started CitiSense with fellow Lehigh student Brennetta Thames.

“This sets aside 40 hours a week to do this, and you’re around a lot of other people doing the same thing, so it’s much more motivating,” Hillman said. “It was a lot of great encouragement and I definitely don’t think I’ve have gotten this far if not for this program.”

Lehigh students Brennetta Thames and Emma Hillman (respectively) presenting their project CitiSense at the Hatchery Demo Day.

Lehigh students Brennetta Thames and Emma Hillman (respectively) presenting their project CitiSense at the Hatchery Demo Day.

CitiSense was one of 21 projects by participating students that were on display during the Hatchery Demo Day, held Aug. 9 at the E.W. Fairchild-Martindale Library in Bethlehem.

This marked the first year of the Hatchery, which allows students to develop entrepreneurial solutions, test potential business ideas, and learn the foundational skills of entrepreneurship work on problems that matter.

Organized by Lehigh’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity, and Innovation, the program included 38 students representing 19 majors across three colleges, both undergraduate and graduate students, including two international students from Ashoka University in India.

“These students are now equipped to apply design thinking and an entrepreneurial mindsets to any problem and confidently work towards a solution,” said Shannon Varcoe, Baker’s innovation programs manager. “They are prepared to be better students and leaders because of this experience.”

The projects on display ranged from apps that crowdsource safe running trails and help restaurants customers make informed choices, to an outdoor toy that encourages physical activity in middle school girls, and guidebooks that help Dreamers achieve their educational goals.

Nick Jewell, 23, co-founded a mobile application called Powder, which provides customers with access to unused restrooms in New York City. Inspired by how picky his mother and sister are about using public bathrooms, it also benefits restaurants and companies by creating potential customers for them.

“One thing the Hatchery did that really helped us was encourage us to go out and talk to both the end users and our customers,” said Jewell, who co-created the app with fellow students Max Bonzulak and Tyler Evans. “We really believe our customer has the blueprint of our idea, it’s just up to us to find that blueprint.”

Students in the Hatchery spent two weeks learning the foundations of entrepreneurship, and then self identified problems they wanted to solve over the remaining ten weeks. They researched, prototyped, and tested their ideas working either in teams or individually.

The Hatchery is composed of topical “nests,” where students tackled ideas surrounding healthcare, peer-to-peer learning in higher education, community service, homelessness, and more. The nests were guided by Lehigh faculty and staff, as well as expert guest speakers.

In addition to demoing their projects for the public, teams had the option to privately pitch for a group of experts and receive feedback designed to help move their projects to the next level. But starting companies was not the ultimate goal of the Hatchery, Varcoe said.

Those students who choose to continue their projects will be supported by the Baker Institute through monthly EUREKA! competitions, mentoring opportunities, and annual entrepreneurship events on campus, according to Varcoe.

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