TigerLaunch spotlights student entrepreneurs, awards over $60,000 in prizes
The Entrepreneurship Club hosted the final round of this year’s TigerLaunch, a competition for aspiring entrepreneurs to present their start-up ideas, and awarded the winners $60,500 in prizes on Friday.
According to TigerLaunch Director David Dworsky ’15, the prizes for the entrepreneurship track were $20,000 for first place, $6,500 for second place and $3,000 for third place. The social entrepreneurship track had prizes of $15,000 for first place, $10,000 for second place and $5,000 for third place.
The first-place winner for the entrepreneurship track was WebReduce, a startup created by Austin Walker ’13 and Ethan Berl ’14 to use unused computer power to engage in constructive tasks like processing big data sets.
The first-place winner for the social entrepreneurship track was Read Record Replay, a literacy initiative developed by Cathy Chen ’14, Catherine Ku ’14, Evelyn Siu ’15 and Deanna Zhu ’15 to help promote literacy in the United States by providing underprivileged children with audiobooks.
Ku is an associate news editor for The Daily Princetonian.
According to Berl, WebReduce is a tool that not only helps perform big data tasks but also enables companies to make revenue in a way other than selling advertisements.
“Sitting on a normal webpage really doesn’t take much of your computer’s power, so a lot of computer cycles are just going to waste, and we thought we could use those to actually be doing useful computation and be making money for those websites,” Berl explained. “We give [websites] another way that they could farm out new users and make some revenue.”
WebReduce originated from a hacking program that Berl constructed about five years ago to steal a user’s web history. Berl said he later wondered if he could take this code and convert it from a security loophole into something useful and constructive. New technologies not available at the time he wrote the original hack code made this project possible now, he said.
“I think we’re going to use [our winnings] to go towards more servers, start scaling things up, and then the next step for the business part of it would be to find some really good partner websites … and find some people with some real data problems,” Berl said.
He and Walker added that they considered the feedback they received from the judges as valuable as the money they won at the event.
Entrepreneurship track judge Pericles Mazarakis said that WebReduce’s first-place victory was well-deserved.
“We were looking for some unique problems, and there’s a combination of both presentation and the problem they’re trying to solve and the opportunity to commercialize a very complex technical problem, and we thought that the winners did a great job,” Mazarakis said.
The Read Record Replay initiative consists of three steps to increase literacy among American children. According to Chen, host organizations at universities and high schools will first host book drives to gather large amounts of books and invite volunteers to record themselves reading the donated books out loud. Then, host organizations will distribute the books to children at local elementary schools and provide interactive programming the day the books are brought, according to Chen.
“The books will stay there with the kids, and all the audio will be uploaded to our database so the kids can take the books, read the serial number we have inside and then access the audiobook online on our website, so that way they can listen to these books ... and have someone … putting a voice behind the book,” she explained.
Chen and Ku first had the idea for Read Record Replay after they decided to add a philanthropy component to the Taiwanese American Students Association’s activities when they assumed leadership of the club as co-presidents last year, Chen said. Though the initiative originally benefited children in rural Taiwan, representatives from other American universities contacted Ku and Chen upon hearing about the program. Read Record Replay was remodeled to make it more financially sustainable, Chen explained.
Social entrepreneurship track judge Bill Taylor ’81 said that the judges saw much potential in Read Record Replay.
“I think we all liked the tangibility of the project and the capacity to get college students doing things that have a positive impact on elementary school students and also using technology to scale it,” Taylor said. “Second thing is we’re very impressed by both the size and the talent of the team, and teamwork is a really important piece of this going forward.”
In the entrepreneurship track, second place was awarded to Tech Rover, which offers quality electronic products like laptop batteries at affordable prices. Third place went to 3Dtouch, which implements a sensor array to sense bare human hands at a given distance from the screen, allowing for use of touch screens from afar and increasing gaming capabilities on devices such as the iPad. 3Dtouch was also the recipient of a $1,000 audience choice award.
In second place for the social entrepreneurship track was mobileAid, which allows local health workers to send SMS-based requests to NGO partners. In third place was Stitch Your Story, which seeks to allow consumers to design their own fashion products that support causes they care about.