Student Entrepreneurs Get Lift, Prize Money

CLARIFICATION APPENDED

Seven undergraduates—founders of enterprises ranging from catering companies to alumni peer-to-peer lending services for college tuition—went home last night with a combined total of over $50,000 from the I³ Harvard College Innovation Challenge, a competition which seeks to foster entrepreneurship among the student body.

The challenge was organized by the Harvard College Entrepreneurship Forum, Harvard Student Agencies, and the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard.

At an awards ceremony last night, winners received grants ranging from $2,500 to $15,000 for projects that fell within four categories: for-profit startups, campus service ventures, social entrepreneurship, and creative enterprises.

Sam A. Yagan ’99, the founder of Sparknotes.com and OKcupid.com, was the keynote speaker.



COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISES

Prize: $15,000

Cookie Crumbs, a mobile service which allows cellphone users to write notes from any location in the world without the aid of a computer, was founded by Jason H. Gao ’10 and Timothy H. Hsieh ’10.

Gao and Hsieh plan to start with generic notes that users can write but eventually hope to progress to restaurant reviews and even social networking features.

“People are generally active in creating content for the web, but you need a computer,” Gao said. “With this you can write your thoughts anywhere from your cellphone.”

Groupspeak, created by Christopher R. Clayton ’09, won its grant by aiming to revolutionize the world of internet chat by allowing users to take part in conversations with people from certain cities about particular topics.

For example, a Bostonian wishing to talk about tennis only needs to type in “tennis” and “Boston” and will be transported to a “groupspeak” about tennis among Boston residents.

Currently, the organization only encompasses Harvard and Stanford—where Clayton’s brother is a student—but Clayton said he will use the award money to expand his business.

“One of the things we’re excited about is to expand internationally,” said Clayton. “We can set up the site to expand to 2.6 million cities—everywhere in the world.”



SOCIAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP

Prize: $10,000

VoteGopher.com—created by William M. Ruben ’10 and Alexander J. Lavoie ’10—was born in summer 2007 to provide a comprehensive look at the 2008 U.S. presidential elections.

The Web site has a team of 20 that monitor the day-to-day developments of the election in order to synthesize them within the entire record of a particular candidate or issue.

Once the 2008 presidential campaign runs its course, Ruben and Lavoie said they will turn their sights to other elections.

They said a main objective of the site—which was the only business to receive a grant in this category—is to draw young people into the political sphere.

“We have really made a point to encourage young voters to get involved with a simplistic model,” he said.



STUDENT STARTUPS

Prize: $5,000

PaperG was created in summer 2007 with the intention of facilitating advertising for local businesses.

The company, founded by Roger R. Lee ’08, the former business manager for The Crimson, and Tyler W. Bosmeny ’09, associate business manager for The Crimson, has been live for two months.

Using an online format called “Flyerboard,” the site allows local enterprises to post “flyers” which are then uploaded to all Web sites participating in the network, which currently only includes Boston.

Lee and Bosmeny said they will use their funding to expand PaperG to other cities.

“We want to take it to the next level,” Lee said.

UniThrive, created by Joshua Kushner ’08, is a non-profit organization that utilizes peer-to-peer lending to bridge the gap between undergraduates of Harvard and its alumni by helping students to pay their tuition. [SEE CLARIFICATION]

Kushner’s organization—which also received a grant—allows students to receive private loans from alumni at a low interest rate.

Kushner said he will use to the grant to further develop his business plan and work on creating partnerships with non-profit venture capital firms.

“This is a concept that would work, He said. “It can make a tremendous difference in the lives of many students in the country.”

CLARIFICATION: The April 10 news story, "Student Entrepreneurs Get Lift, Prize Money" did not include the names of both of the creators of UniThrive. The non-profit peer-to-peer lending organization was created by Nimay K. Mehta  ’09 and Joshua Kushner ’08.