Startup Stars: Commerce Majors and Entrepreneurship Minors Win at UVA E-Cup Competition

December 11, 2018

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2018 E Cup winners

Proving once again that innovation is a time-tested Commerce School tradition, McIntire students relied on their business creativity to make a strong showing at the Concept Competition stage of the University’s Entrepreneurship Cup. Known as the “E-Cup,” the annual challenge elicits ideas at any stage of development from across Grounds, seeking to enrich the area’s entrepreneurial community by encouraging new ventures with the potential to address unmet needs, solve social and economic problems, and do so in an interdisciplinary way. Winning participants took home a $1,000 share of $25,000 in prize money for each of their victorious projects.

For the 2018-2019 edition, entries were organized based on thematic tracks including Social Entrepreneurship; Consumer/Business-to-Business; Health Care Services & Technologies; and Science/Technology/Innovation.

Unencumbered by a lack of business plan or working prototype, the students’ engaging startup concepts offered potential solutions for issues ranging from personal hygiene, to social support for the ill, to building wealth for the homeless.

The success of the Commerce undergrads and Entrepreneurship minors illustrates why Professor Eric Martin, who also serves as Director of McIntire’s Galant Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, believes the School is producing some of the most innovative thinkers anywhere in the world.

“Terrific ideas are often drawn from personal insights,” Martin says. “This was particularly true for both Riley, an engaging social network for people living with disabilities and illness created by Elizabeth Tikoyan (Curry ’19, ENTP Minor), and Lotta, a portable bidet handy for travel for those whose culture or religion promotes use of such a device, conceived by Muhammad Ahmad (McIntire ’20) and Nessrullah Kahn (A&S ’20).”

UVA’s E-Cup provides a first opportunity for many students to present their concepts publicly and to gain valuable feedback useful in moving forward exciting projects, he adds. “Many McIntire professors work with aspiring E-Cup participants from across the University to help them hone their offering, business model, and pitch,” Martin says. “We are so proud of the work these amazingly innovative students are doing.”

Winning in the Social Entrepreneurship track, Tikoyan’s Rily facilitates one-to-one connections among individuals with the same or similar medical condition and their caretakers. “We are working to tackle loneliness in this community by making an accessible, mobile application that would be a more effective way to meet people who have the same condition,” she explains. Inspired to focus her efforts on Riley after her own struggle with Lyme disease, Tikoyan plans to beta test her networking app in the coming months.

Joining Rily as a winner in the Social Entrepreneurship category, Second Chance Coffee, by Yaxin Ren (McIntire ’20), Peiching Teo (McIntire '19), and Yifan Lim (McIntire ’20), aspires to provide economic security through training and employment for the homeless. The trio will continue to develop their prize-winning idea of empowering this population with transferrable skills, job placement, and ownership opportunities, specifically by preparing them to eventually own and operate their own coffee truck.

Lotta, the Ahmad/Khan team’s concept for a portable bidet, emerged among the five winning projects in the Consumer/Business-to-Business track. The dedication put into their startup over the course of six months has paid off for the duo, as the win justifies their efforts and serves as an impetus for ongoing development of their idea. “It's a real pleasure and honor to be able to work on something you love and finally see other people who follow your vision,” Ahmad says. “This E-Cup win was just the beginning of our journey, and hopefully, it will give us some momentum to keep going!”

Entrepreneurship minor Zack Landsman (Engineering ’21) was also part of a winning E-Cup team, InStep, which succeeded in the Health Care Services & Technologies track.

Concept winners were invited to apply for early selection to the 2019 summer iLab Incubator program. Applying teams met with the Incubator selection committee Nov. 30, with final decisions to be announced this month.