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SPARKTank Awards $50,000 to Brandeis start-ups

SPARKTank 2018, the Brandeis International Business School’s fourth annual start-up pitch competition, awarded 10 teams of Brandeis students, faculty and staff a total of $50,000 to fund their start-ups.

Brandeis and greater Boston area community members met at IBS on Feb. 4 to watch what the Brandeis University website called “the most anticipated competition of the winter.”

Each of the fourteen competing teams had a few minutes to pitch their ideas for innovation before the panel of judges questioned them on the details of their ventures. Teams fielded questions about “how they would monetize their ideas and whether they had assessed their competition,” according to a Brandeis website.

SPARKTank, is one of only a few university competitions in the nation where students, faculty and staff compete against each other as equals. Teams spend weeks or more creating business plans to pitch at the competition where they hope to receive feedback, prize money and mentorship.

The Grand Prize winner, receiving $10,000, was A.I. Capital Management (AICM). The company was founded by Brandeis alumni Marshall Chang ’16 and Duncan Wong ’16, who have been working on this project since 2016. AICM applies artificial intelligence to investment strategy, to help avoid emotional trading patterns. Chang praised SPARK for accelerating the project’s introduction to the market, according to a Brandeis University article.

In second place was African Women Energy Solutions (AWES), a biogas energy start-up aiming to allow African women to be involved and empowered in grassroots development. AWES came away from the competition with $9,000.

Eight other teams were awarded varying amounts of funding. The projects ranged from “GreenChoice,” an app for sustainable shopping, to “sySTEMic flow” which promote opportunities in STEM for young women of color. Other ideas reached globally, such as Nomad Dairy, which supports local Ethiopian camel milk producers.

“The amazing diversity of our innovators continues to inspire us,” said Rebecca Menapace, Associate Provost for Innovation, in a Brandeis article on SPARKTank, “It’s remarkable what they’ve been able to achieve in such a brief amount of time. They all come from different disciplines, and range from freshman to faculty. To see them work so hard, and go so far, so quickly, shows the dedication of the Brandeis community to really solving the big challenges we face globally.”

The four-member judges panel was composed of Bobbie Carlton, the founder of Mass Innovation Nights, a company that provides networking and visibility for entrepreneurs; Sean Rush, the former CEO of Junior Achievement, an organization preparing students for the working world; Barbara Finer, the founder of TechSandbox, a start-up accelerator with a focus on network development; and Johan Bergmann, the director of Strategic Alliances at the HULT Prize Foundation, an organization providing capital to young entrepreneurs.

Last year’s SPARKTank winner was WorkAround, an online service connecting refugees with employment in the United States. WorkAround went on to be a finalist in the world-renown start-up accelerator MassChallenge, and the company has already employed 300 refugees from nine different countries.

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