An at-home strep test that will help parents easily diagnose their children. A hydroponic wall panel garden that will help chefs save time and money. And, a drive-in movie theater that will help redefine nighttime entertainment in Accra, Ghana.
Three ventures, led by dynamic Babson College entrepreneurs, solving distinct problems were the winners of the prestigious B.E.T.A. (Babson Entrepreneurial Thought & Action®) Challenge for 2022.
Nathalya Mamane MBA’21 and RT Microfluidics (alumni track), Connor Harbison MBA’22 and Atlas Urban Farms (graduate track), and Samantha Azu ’22 and Hype.flix Drive-In Cinema (undergraduate track) were announced as the winners of the 11th annual event Thursday.
Each of the winners received a grand prize of $28,000 in cash, plus donations of in-kind services from sponsors. A prize of $2,500 also was awarded to the two other finalist ventures in each of the three tracks. In total, more than $275,000 in cash and in-kind prizes were awarded by The Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship during the finale at Olin Hall.
Smaiyra Million P’21, the executive director of the Blank Center who served as master of ceremonies for the finale, described the importance and uniqueness of the B.E.T.A. Challenge in her introduction. “This is not your typical business plan competition. This is Babson’s secret sauce,” she said. “We look at progress, we look at milestones, we want to see what you’re thinking about and what actions you’ve taken. So, this is not about putting something on a piece of paper, planning for the future. This is about execution. And, that’s what makes everything that we do here different and special.”
That work and that execution was reflected in the pitches. Donna Levin, CEO of Babson College’s Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership, praised the nine finalists before presenting the grand-prize awards. “All of the pitches were absolutely fabulous, just fantastic,” she said. “I do not envy the judges who are trying to make some really tough decisions right now.”
In the end, the judges rewarded a trio of problem-solving ventures:
The alumni winner, Mamane, and her company, RT Microfluidics, is building an easy-to-use, at-home diagnostic platform to detect bacterial or viral pathogens in saliva using molecular technologies.
The company is beginning by developing an at-home strep throat test. With 50 million strep throat tests performed every year, but only 36,000 confirmed cases, RT Microfluidics’ solution aims to help patients, especially parents, more quickly and accurately diagnose illnesses.
“It is so overwhelming. It didn’t even have a chance when I presented it last year. This is pure validation, because it feels like people are listening now.”
Nathalya Mamane MBA’21, ounder and CEO of RT Microfluidics
The B.E.T.A. Challenge victory is a huge step for Mamane, who first pitched her idea in the competition last year. “It is so overwhelming,” Mamane said. “It didn’t even have a chance when I presented it last year. This is pure validation, because it feels like people are listening now.”
Mamane said the grand-prize money will go toward the company’s own lab and equipment for product development.
The other alumni finalists were Mati Amin MS’20 of Lit, a digital stories-based, language acquisition and proficiency tool for teachers and students; and Alexander Deeb ’14 of ClassHook, which helps K-12 teachers in more than 20,000 U.S. schools increase student engagement using short video clips from popular TV shows and movies.
Alumni judges were Geoff Chasin, senior vice president of Cardinal Logistics Management; Jessica Lynch ’13, MS’13, MBA’18, CEO and founder of Wishroute; and Dan Marques ’07, head of global digital commerce at Crocs.
Atlas Urban Farms
The graduate student winner, Harbison, and his company, Atlas Urban Farms, packages the whole food supply chain so chefs can make more money serving fresher food with its hydroponic wall panel gardens.
“This is going to help chefs grow exactly the herbs and garnishes they need in house,” Harbison said during his pitch. “It’s going to be much cheaper per ounce, it’s going to save them time and effort, it’s going to look beautiful on the wall, and, by the way, it’s going to be way better for the environment.”
Harbison said he plans to invest the grand prize in manufacturing, IP protection, and hydroponic equipment. The Atlas Urban Farms team also includes Harveen Anand ’24 and Eliyahu Suskind ’24.
The other graduate finalists were Heet Ghodasara MS’22 of Impact Gifting, which curates premium and purposeful corporate gifts that give back and positively impact the people and the planet; and Jeffery Goff MBA’22 of Natur Athletics, which is disrupting the children’s athletic footwear market by creating revolutionary minimalist soccer cleats and fashionable basketball sneakers that will give children’s feet the strength and flexibility necessary to start off on the right foot.
Graduate judges were Zann Ali ’12, principal at 2048 Ventures; Eric Braun, co-director of Babson’s Summer Venture Program, and principal consultant for innovation strategy and growth for Velocity Innovation; and Cheryl Kiser, executive director of The Institute for Social Innovation at Babson College.
Hype.flix Drive-In Cinemas
The undergraduate student winner, Azu, pitched Hype.flix Drive-In Cinema, a drive-in theater based in Accra, Ghana, that serves as a disruptor to the traditional cinemas and monotonous nighttime entertainment available by offering a unique viewing experience.
“It’s very exciting. It’s a big opportunity for my business,” Azu said of winning. “And, that’s all thanks to Babson. I appreciate that from even the prep of getting ready for the B.E.T.A. Challenge and how everyone here has been helpful from the Blank Center. It’s just been an overwhelmingly good experience.”
Azu said the grand prize will go toward better high-tech cinema equipment, additional staff, and improving “a seating arrangement to redefine what the drive-in cinema means in Ghana.” The Hype.flix Drive-In Cinema team also includes Ike Dsane and Abba Manu.
The other undergraduate finalists were Mauricio Nogueira Silverio ’24 of iDuk, an online college admissions counseling company that supports low-income Brazilian students to get accepted to top U.S. colleges with vitally needed scholarships; and Swarna Shiv ’23 of Unsmudgeable, a permanent anti-smudge eyeglass lens coating applied for a lifetime of clear vision.
Undergraduate judges were Cait Brumme, acting CEO of MassChallenge; Karim El-Gamal MBA’11, co-owner of Rail Trail Flatbread; and Emily Levy ’16, CEO and co-founder of Mighty Well and a 2016 B.E.T.A. Challenge winner.
More Award Recipients
The Blank Center also awarded three special awards, recognizing value creation and impact:
- Mamane also was named the winner of the High Impact Female Founder award, sponsored by David B. Ragins ’94, receiving an additional $5,000.
- Goff won the Lila W. Sahney Endowed Fashion and Textile Innovation Award, sponsored by Gobind Sahney ’83 and daughter Sabrina L. Sahney, receiving $10,000.
- Alex Woodhouse ’15 and Ken Lannon of CompMiner won the Tech Innovation Award, sponsored by Gautam Gupta ’07.
All three grand-prize winners were elated with their victories—not only the financial assistance but also what it represents.
“Money comes and goes. I’m planning to spend this on the business, but bragging rights are forever,” Harbison said. “I saw that we had some past winners among the judges. I hope in a few years, I’m lucky enough to be able to come back and give my time and help future generations here. I think that’d be so much fun.”
The B.E.T.A. Challenge is created, organized, and produced by the Blank Center team, with special accolades to Alexandra Dunk and Sue Nealon for logistics and execution of the entire production.