TigerLaunch propels winners toward business success
The next generation’s great technology companies may have seen their first public exposure in McCosh Hall on Saturday. Six finalist teams presented start-up proposals to judges in the TigerLaunch competition, in which would-be student entrepreneurs vied for thousands of dollars in seed money.
TigerLaunch, which is organized by the Princeton Entrepreneurship Club, is divided into two categories: Technology, Products and Services, and Social Enterprises. The E-Club presented the event alongside the Class of ’76 Green Business Plan Competition.
Nick De Veaux ’11 and Woody Hines ’12 won the Technology, Products and Services category with Madi, an application which takes advantage of the Kinect camera, an add-on for the Xbox, which can capture a 3-D image of its environment, to create what De Veaux called an “augmented-reality experience” to aid online shopping.
“It’s basically a virtual try-on technology that allows users to buy clothing online after trying it on, and our business plan revolved around the marketing of that idea and bringing that product to launch,” De Veaux said.
The team of Richard She ’12, Josphat Magutt ’12 and Eric Kuto ’12 won the Social Enterprises track with M-Profesa, a service which aims to level the playing field for Kenya’s competitive high school entrance exams by making test-prep services more accessible to students in rural areas.
Magutt is also a staff photographer for The Daily Princetonian.
“We’re going to use a means that has recently come to Kenya, which is the cell phone,” She said. “If you look at Kenyan 14-year-olds, within two years almost all of them are going to have their own personal phones.”
She said M-Profesa would include “both a web application and a text message application.” M-Profesa’s designers said the service would revolutionize preparation for the exams. In Kenya, “even the Masai herdsmen have cell phones,” She said.
Kuto explained that existing test-prep services are paper-based and focused in urban areas.
Ryan Shea ’12, who managed the competition, said competitors submitted executive summaries of their proposals in January. Nineteen semifinalists were selected and paired with alumni mentors, who advised teams on writing business plans as well as on “their start-ups in general,” Shea said.
Three finalists emerged on each track from the semifinal round of the competition, which was held before judges in Frist Campus Center. The finalists presented before the judges and a crowd of approximately 100 attendees in McCosh 10.
Shea said the competition seeks to promote an entrepreneurial spirit at Princeton, noting that at least one past winner has been extremely succesful.
“Three years ago, when we hosted TigerLaunch, the winner of TigerLaunch was a student named Seth Priebatsch, and he started a company called SCVNGR, which is now a $100 million-valuated company,” Shea said. “If he were still at Princeton, he would be a senior right now. So we’d like to see more student entrepreneurs coming out of Princeton.”
Madi, the Technology, Products and Services winner, was the product of a collaboration between De Veaux, a computer science major, and Hines, a philosophy major and co-founder of the fashion blog Prepidemic.
“Basically, I had a concept of the idea, I approached Woody and we were able to figure out exactly how we wanted to implement this and the plan in terms of who the potential user is,” De Veaux explained. “Our vision is of creating an application that runs on the Xbox 360, and it’s downloaded through the Xbox Live Marketplace.”
She, meanwhile, said he got the idea from one of his courses but needed partners with knowledge of Kenya to implement it.
“I originally hatched the idea in John Danner’s social entrepreneurship class,” She said, adding that while he wanted to launch the project in Kenya, he had no firsthand knowledge of the area. Magutt and Kuto, the group’s other members, are native Kenyans.
“Eric and Josphat both grew up in rural Kenya, and the situation there is very difficult because there’s an examination that you take at the end of eighth grade which entirely determines your educational future,” She said, explaining that rural children must contend with poorly-funded schools and farm work while they compete with “urban children with much more well-prepared teachers.”
The winning teams each won a $5,000 prize; runners-up received $2,250 in the Technology track and $2,000 in the Social Enterprises track. A total of $10,000 in prize money was awarded to competitors in each track.
De Veaux said that winning the competition gave his team confidence in its proposal. “This provided huge validation for our idea,” he explained, noting that the competition spurred him and Hines to create a detailed business plan to explain how Madi’s technology would be implemented and marketed.
She, Magutt and Kuto, meanwhile, have already bought web domains to house M-Profesa and plan to travel to Kenya during the summer to lay the groundwork for the project.
“Since we won the competition, I’ve already bought the domain names regarding M-Profesa ... and then [during] spring break we’re going to start coding, just so that we can put stuff into the domains that we bought. But the bulk of the work we shall do over the summer,” Kuto said, explaining that the group would need to negotiate with Kenyan communications companies and the nation’s education minister as well as start an advertising campaign.
De Veaux said he has been creating the software behind Madi for his senior independent work and that he and Hines have been discussing the project with alumni entrepreneurs such as Carter Cleveland ’09 and Josh Weinstein ’09.
“My partner and I see a huge potential in this idea,” De Veaux said, adding that he had passed up an offer to work at his “dream job” to create Madi.
“I called up the CEO and told him I couldn’t work for him,” De Veaux said. “The job I had would have been an ideal job, but I had to go forward with this opportunity.”