Judges, founders and professors alike looked out onto UNC’s Kenan Stadium from the Blue Zone Thursday as 90 student-led startups pitched at the annual Carolina Challenge.
Established in 2005 as UNC’s flagship venture competition, the Carolina Challenge has hosted student founders from a variety of majors over the years including biomedical engineering, economics, music, computer science, health policy and journalism.
During the hour-long pitch event, judges from the university and the Triangle entrepreneurial ecosystem walked around distributing tokens to the startups they liked the best, with the winner being the startup in each category with the most tokens.
This year, the three winning startups in the early-stage, late-stage and social impact categories took home a $500 prize, with second- and third-place winners winning $350 and $250 respectively.
Pourcisely, which aims to save bars and restaurants money with its all-in-one precise pour spout to prevent over-pours, won in the early-stage category.
Co-founder Camille Wyatt said she and her co-founders came up with the idea two weeks ago as an assignment for one of their business classes and created their prototype with the 3D printers at UNC’s Makerspace.
“We had to develop a prototype and get validation,” she said. “It was very rigorous, but very helpful.”
Wyatt was optimistic as she explained that her company is investing the $500 in further developing the precise pour spout.
“Pourcisely—look out for us, we’re coming,” she said.
In the late-stage category, serial entrepreneur and CEO of Linker Logic Technologies Ritwik Pavan and his business partners Matthew Schaefer and Christian Burke won first place for their company, VADE.
VADE is meant to save drivers time and money by providing governments with parking data from cameras that make use of machine learning to know when spots are open or occupied.
Pavan said the company runs on a subscription-based SaaS model where they give their data to cities for a fee based on the number of parking spots and drivers.
The company has raised $85,000 to date and is working on raising a pre-seed round of $240K in the next couple of months.
As for the $500 they won at Carolina Challenge, Pavan said they will use it to meet with a possible partner in Pennsylvania, United Public Safety.
“Honestly, this is going to pay our flight to Philadelphia on Monday,” he said.
Finally, Veera, which aims to reduce post-harvest food losses in developing countries with its cold storage device, won in the social impact category.
The cause is personal for Indian co-founder, Varun Jain, who has seen farmers in India suffer because of inadequate storage techniques that lead to food waste.
“Let’s say it’s really hot or humid in India, for example,” he said. “The produce over there gets wasted to the point that 86 million tons of produce gets chucked out because they can’t be kept cold in the supply chain.”
Jain said the founders are trying to bootstrap the company by looking for local applications for their cold storage device, with the goal of soon expanding to India.
Although they haven’t raised any funding yet, the founders are no strangers to pitching. Recently, Veera made it to the regional finals for the Hult Prize, one of the most prestigious startup events in the world for socially responsible ventures.
Jain said he and his partners will need more than $500 to produce their product, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help them reach their target market.
“This will help us to be able to make those connections, do some traveling to various areas if we need to,” he said. “We can make sure that we really get things right with the people that we care the most about, which is those farmers and farmer-produced organizations.”