LaunchU Awards $35,000 in Startup Funds to Students and Alumni

March 11, 2020

Kyra McConnell ’22

Woman talking into a microphone on stage.
The first-place prize was awarded to Twine, a venture developed by third-years Colton Potter ’21, Minh Lam ’21, Khang Nguyen ’21, and Osama Abdelrahman '23.
Photo credit: Jack Lichtenstein '23

Eighth annual pitch competition awards seed funding to three teams to further develop their business ventures. 

LaunchU awarded a total of $35,000 in startup funding to entrepreneurs of the Oberlin community, including students and alumni, in its eighth annual pitch competition on March 6.

A cornerstone of Oberlin’s Center for Innovation and Impact, the LaunchU competition begins in September and culminates in March with final pitches. Teams of budding entrepreneurs undergo a series of intense training sessions, professional development and networking opportunities, and a boot camp during winter term in January to prepare. In March, they present their ideas to a panel of judges who determine awards and distribute the funds. This year, LaunchU trained 14 teams, 11 of which presented at the competition.

First place went to Twine, a mobile recommendation service for college students interested in joining different clubs and organizations. The team was awarded $15,000 and will use the funding to work side by side with more schools to expand their business. Twine is led by chief project manager Colton Potter ’21 along with Minh Lam ’21, Khang Nguyen ’21, and Osama Abdelrahman '23. 

According to Potter, “students lack a personalized window into campus life that they care about. There’s no quick way for them to find events that they’re interested in, and there’s no resource with updated information on student organizations,” and Twine is the solution to that problem, he says. The service will launch in August 2020 as part of Oberlin College’s New Student Orientation program.

Second-place winner Henry Aberle ’16, CEO and founder of TVSensei, was awarded $12,000 for his product, ChaCha, cofounded with Kefan Yang. ChaCha is an online marketplace for language learning. The product brings together intermediate to advanced language learners with native instructors for online lessons that are centered on video.

“We’re less of a solution for learning a language, and more of a solution for maintaining your language abilities,” said Aberle, who cited ChaCha as a solution to the “use it or lose it” mentality around language learning.

The third-place prize of $6,000 went to Iliana Zamorska ’12, CEO and founder of Yoga For Thinking Machines, and McLean Sammon ’19 for their product, Grownote, an app that helps people use social media mindfully by tracking their usage and incorporating mindfulness practices. The team will use the funds to develop a prototype for beta testing at Oberlin.

Zamorska called Grownote “a new kind of digital community,” one that fosters “authentic expression.”

View our Flickr album for more photos from the pitch competition.

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