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Student Entrepreneurs Pitch Ideas at Innovate, Celebrate Awards Dinner

By Colin McEvoy on April 26, 2019

John Cunningham, one of the students behind the award-winning startup Preff, at the Baker Institute’s Innovate, Celebrate Awards Dinner.

John Cunningham, one of the students behind the award-winning startup Preff, at the Baker Institute’s Innovate, Celebrate Awards Dinner. (courtesy photo)

Student entrepreneurs from Lehigh University were recognized during the Baker Institute’s Innovate, Celebrate Awards Dinner, an annual event that recognizes student, faculty, and alumni innovation and celebrates those who support student entrepreneurship.

More than 20 students shared their startup ideas with faculty, staff, alumni, and entrepreneurs from the Lehigh Valley during the event, which was held at Lehigh’s Iaccoca Event Center on April 23.

Three startup teams were selected to pitch their ideas live during dinner before a panel of judges for the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 Grand Prize of $5,000.

It was awarded to Preff, a dedicated social media network that facilitates in-person meetups and leads to hyper-focused advertising from restaurants, created by students Dom Allen, Cameron Cipriano, Jack Cunningham, and Will Peracchio.

The Preff team said they plan to use the funds to travel to the National Restaurant Association Show in the summer to learn more about the industry and introduce Preff to new audiences.

John Cunningham (left) discussing the startup Gavel-It at the Innovate, Celebrate Awards Dinner.

David Pochapin (left) discussing the startup Gavel-It at the Innovate, Celebrate Awards Dinner. (courtesy photo)

The award caps the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 EUREKA! Competition Series, in which students compete monthly throughout the year, pitching startup ideas for the chance to win mentoring and funds. Students are encouraged to progress through three stages, improving from early concepts to prototyped ideas.

Second place was awarded to Gavel-It, a social media platform by student David Pochapin that allows for people to settle their everyday debates. Third place went to A Sneakerhead’s Paradise, a subscription-based service offering access to limited edition shoes at retail price, by Nazr El-Scari and Eliza Wastcoat.

Additionally, during the pre-dinner expo, attendees voted for their favorite pitch with “Baker Bucks,” and the startup that received the most investments was awarded the People’s Choice Award.

That went to Yabo LLC, a mobile platform that enhances the in-dining experience by making paying a restaurant bill or closing a bar tab quicker, easier and safer. The team behind Yabo LLC included Tom Macon, Max Mastbaum, and Dario Sabadussi.

Lehigh University President John Simon also presented the Farrington Award for Outstanding Commitment to Entrepreneurship, which is annually given to a person who has made a positive impact on the Lehigh entrepreneurial community.

This year’s winner was Joan F. Thalheimer, who along with her husband John M. Thalheimer ‘55, endowed Lehigh with a gift in 2005 that has helped grow and sustain the entrepreneurial immersion programs and she continues to be a generous and innovative supporter.

Simon said Thalheimer “holds a longstanding belief in all that Lehigh does to foster our students’ capacity for creativity and innovation, an entrepreneurial mindset, and the skills needed to act on it.”

The Innovate, Celebrate Awards Dinner marked the end of the academic year for the Baker Institute. But the Hatchery, a 10-week student idea accelerator, begins in one month, and six students soon visit London, England and New Delhi, India for entrepreneurial internships.

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