Past Pitch Competitions

Our first two years of competitions were great successes, and we are excited to have innovative winning teams and many finalists that shared their new start-ups and business ideas with the UA and city of Akron communities. Every participant helps the EX[L] Center realize its' mission.

FALL 2019

UA Startup Challenge

ProfProtects team Tanmay Jain and Amal Narayana with professor Dr. Abraham JoyProfProtects wins $10,000 grand prize!

Congratulations to the winners, Tanmay Jain and Amal Narayanan, Ph.D. candidates in the Department of Polymer Science for winning the grand prize, $10,000 for their company ProfProtects.

ProfProtects produces polymer wipes, called OPI-Wipes, that can instantaneously change color when in contact with opioids. These wipes are designed to warn first responders to the presence of lethal narcotics. The wipes, are simple and intuitive to use, give instantaneous results, require no additional equipment, and are designed to be low cost (~$10).

ProProtects produces OPI-Wipes that detect narcatics for first-responders.

Pictured top right: Ph.D candidates Tanmay Jain and Amal Narayanan with professor Dr. Abraham JoyRead more about the innovators.

Pictured bottom right: Before and after photos of an OPI-Wipe shows how it will instantaneously change color from orange to dark-blue, indicating the presence of opioids such as fentanyl and carfentanil.

More about the event

The pitch competition took place Thursday, Nov. 21. at the Bounce Innovation Hub in downtown Akron. The keynote speaker was Patrick Finley, a trustee of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation, and founder and chairman of VITALIA Senior Residencies. The judging panel included Bernard Coleman, global head of inclusive engagement at Uber.


BE THE CHANGE 10K Challenge
Social Entrepreneurship/Nonprofit Pitch Competition

Thank you Kenneth Calhoun Trust for sponsoring #BeTheChange10k Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

Be the change 10k winnerZach Gerdes wins $10,000 grand prize!

Congratulations to the winner, Zach Gerdes and his company LIFT, who won the grand prize Thursday, April 18. LIFT promotes better minds for men, by "using science we know, we can become the men we should be."

Archaic definitions of masculinity limit the potential of men. Guys' strengths can be harnessed for health, but some aspects of the masculinity of our forefathers are having adverse effects on our well-being. Men aren't broken. But being better relies on our ability to move forward and evolve what it means to be a man. By trimming the fat on the masculinity of generations past we can evolve towards our greatest potential. As men, we must rise up to be greater than the sum of media messages, society's stigmas, and outdated stereotypes.

See photos from the final competition on Facebook.


Float the River

Float The River is a social venture that will provide a full service floating experience on the Cuyahoga River. Their mission is to create a vibrant and sustainable recreational experience on the Cuyahoga River and to change perceptions about the water quality, history, and overall community tone.

  • Savannah Snyder, UA PhD candidate in Analytical Chemistry
  • TJ Mack


BE THE CHANGE 10K Social Entrepreneurship Challenge

Be the change 10k logoErie Open Spec wins $10,000 grand prize!

We proudly thank The Akron Leadership Foundation for sponsoring #BeTheChange10k Social Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The winning team, Erie Open Spec, is comprised of Dr. Jiansheng Feng, Banafsheh Khakipoor (Biomimicry PhD candidate,) and Kelly Siman (Biomimicry PhD candidate) who developed a low-cost DIY Spectrometer to measure Phosphate and Nitrate in water samples via a smartphone image.

We will build a social platform, to create a culture of caring and protecting the environment - starting with our already available technology. It benefits the community by raising awareness of the environmental issues people face locally and globally, and cultivating a collective consciousness in which every member of the society takes on the responsibility to proactively protect and preserve the natural environment.

Read Changing the World One Pitch at a Time by Alissa Danckaert-Skovira.

group of networkers at EXL pitch event
team with big check and other guests of the event


The five silver winner finalists received $800 towards their startups.

Better Nutrition at Your Doorstep

  • Sydney Goulden
  • Elisha Banks
  • Dajah Hughley
  • Abby Perkins
  • Christin Seher, MS, RDN, LD


  • Corey Cargill
  • Dmitry Klingensmith

Tail-Wags (for smiles)

  • Anna Tombazzi
  • Hannah Adams


  • Katy Nichols
  • Andrew Durr

  • Bethany Friedrichsen
  • Tim Elliot

FALL 2017

UA Startup Challenge

HungerPearks team with big checkHungerperks is EXL's first pitch competition grand prize winner!

Sponsored by Burton D. Morgan Foundation, the first UA Startup Challenge finals were a great success and networking event for entrepreneurship.

The winning team, Hungerperks, is comprised of Sam Borick (Computer Science), Kyle Flynn (alum- Marketing Management), Julia Mallinak (alum - Marketing & Sales Management and Integrated Marketing Communications) and Nick Neral (Marketing Management).

HungerPerks is an app that lets users find new restaurants by taking short surveys to earn free food. We work with restaurants to craft food incentives (or SuperPerks) to help them grow and attract new customers, and to understand their customers better with custom surveys.

group of networkers at EXL pitch event
members of the HungerPerks team
HungerPearks team with big check and other guests of the event


November 30, 2017 at 5 - 9 p.m.

The Bit Factory 526 South Main St. Suite 511 Akron, OH 44311

Meet & Greet

  • Matthew Wilson (then President of The University of Akron)
  • Chris Nickless (CEO and Founder of Vlipsy)
  • Courtney Gras (Forbes 30 Under 30 and Program Director at Bounce Innovation Hub)
  • Deb Hoover (Head of the Burton D. Morgan Foundation)

How it worked

Each finalist gave a five minute pitch, followed by a Q&A with the judges, and presented a PowerPoint to expain:

  1. the problem they are trying to solve and the solution
  2. their go-to market strategy
  3. their target market
  4. how they are different from competitors
  5. overview of team and why they can execute


The winner was chosen based on 55% vote from judges and 45% vote from the audience and received $10,000. The five finalist "gold winners" received $800 towards their startup, the semi-finalist "silver winners" received $100 toward their startup and the "bronze winners" received $50.

DeepHire Team DeepHire TeamNick Crawford | Computer Science
Steven Gates | Computer Science
Russell Ratcliffe | Computer Engineering

DeepHire is a software tool that solves the two biggest pain points a business has in the recruiting process: we source and screen candidates for a business. On the mobile app, job seekers get to swipe between a list of companies and get an 'inside look' at particular company's culture. Our algorithms detect when a job seeker is engaged with a particular company. If the job seeker passes each personalized interview question, they are recommended to the company as a potential good hire.

CV-600 wheelsJeffery Lowery| Mechanical Engineering

Lowery Racing manufactures motorsports and automobile products for the flat track motorcycle racing industry, as well as reselling products purchased at wholesale.

Tombazzi and Kordahi Moovboard prototypeAnna Tombazzi | Chemical Engineering, minor - Business, Mathematics, Chemistry
Ryan Kordahi | Chemical Engineering, minor - Business

To combat the negative effects of sitting for long periods of time, two chemical engineering students, who are also minoring in business, have set out to create an ergonomically-sound portable device that fits under a desk and mimics the movement of walking.

electrical and computer engineering students North Star Bots Nikolai Ruhe | Engineering
Reed Jacobsen | Engineering Creighton Cloud
Nathan Dornback | Engineering
Walker Grossman | Engineering

This team of senior electrical and computer engineering students are on a mission to break the world record for the longest drone flight by a multi-copter. With their patent-pending technology, they believe they can achieve indefinite flight times. Applications include surveillance, delivery, cinema and more.

Dustin Ficker Precision Aerial's drone Dustin Ficker | Mechanical Engineering Technology

This company uses drones paired with high resolution camera sensors to get accurate and high res photos for inspection of tall or intricate infrastructure. Traditional methods are dangerous, time consuming and can yield mediocre results. Their method allows for cost reductions, efficiencies two to three times as high as traditional inspection methods and increased quality.