LaunchU Awards $37K in Startup Funding

March 14, 2018

Amanda Nagy

Six proud winners hold their award certificates
The winners of the LaunchU 2017-18 final pitch competition, from left: Catherine O'Hare '11 and Tessa Emmer '11, Salt Point Seaweed; Benjamin Steger '19 and Bryan Rubin '18, Virtu.Academy; Katie Kim '21, BOBALIN; and Hassan Bin Fahim, uPage.
Photo credit: Yevhen Gulenko

The annual LaunchU pitch competition awarded a combined $37,000 in startup funding to four business ventures. The creators of 10 ventures competed before a panel of judges and potential investors on March 10.

In first place, the team of Tessa Emmer ’11, Catherine O’Hare ’11, and Avery Resor received $20,000 for their venture Salt Point Seaweed, a company that offers high-quality nutritional seaweed sustainably harvested by hand in northern California. The three are committed to using their business as a force for environmental protection, community development, and food system transformation.

The second-place prize of $10,000 was awarded to Virtu.Academy, a platform for digital music education created by Bryan Rubin ’18, an environmental studies and politics major, and Benjamin Steger ’19, a double-degree student majoring in biochemistry and trumpet performance. Their business model aims to build a nationwide network of music educators who will provide affordable, convenient lessons to middle and high school students.

Third-place winner Hassan Bin Fahim ’18, an economics and politics major, received $5,000 for uPage, a platform that provides simple and affordable website creation tools for Internet users in the developing world. uPage will introduce a localized website creation platform in Pakistan, where existing website creation tools are unable to fill the needs of Internet users who want to share their voice with the world.

An honorable mention prize of $2,000 was awarded to Katie Kim ’21 for BOBALIN, a local venture specializing in boba (more commonly known as bubble tea), a fast-growing drink trend that originated in Taiwan.

The pitch competition is the culmination of a venture incubator and intensive bootcamp held primarily over winter term. Participants experience one-on-one mentorship, pitch prep in support of their launch. Seventeen ventures competed in a preliminary pitch competition on February 24.

During the bootcamp, held January 15-26, 31 participants worked on business model exploration, followed by programs in marketing, business law, sales strategies, finance and forecasting, fundraising, and team building for startups. Nineteen professionals presented materials on business formation, for-profit and nonprofit fundraising, social venture management, branding, business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketing, intellectual property law, and financial forecasting.

Director of Entrepreneurship Bara Watts says the competition had many strong contenders.

“At LaunchU, participants work to make their own ideas a success. It’s real world, hands-on learning. During the bootcamp, everyone was all-in the entire time—and that is saying a lot because they were there for 12 hours a day for 12 days straight.”

Watts says she is honored to work with seven passionate and active LaunchU board members.

“LaunchU was founded and funded by a group of inspired alumni who felt strongly that this kind of high-impact, real-world learning was a critical ingredient to a well-rounded liberal arts education. The program is predominantly supported through donations made by the board and other alumni and parents who are passionate about entrepreneurship at Oberlin. It is a wonderful example of how Oberlin comes together across all groups within its community to promote growth and opportunity.”


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