SEBA Students Compete in Fifth Annual Business Idea Competition

What do a golfing app, a restaurant run by robot waiters, an app to locate your keys, and an exercise apparatus aimed at improving physical fitness in elderly and disabled populations all have in common?

PurifyAir, winner of the competition

These were a few of the ideas Saint Mary’s students presented to a panel of judges at SEBA's fifth annual Business Idea Competition. The winner of the competition—both by people’s choice and by judges overall vote—was PurifiAir.

Part of the evening Executive MBA cohort, the PurifiAir team proposed to reduce air pollution in crowded urban spaces, moving communities back to health and conceivably reducing healthcare costs while also improving wealth in urban areas. A clear titanium dioxide solution, the product can be applied to any surface, reacting to organically break down nitrogen oxides (NOx) into cleaner byproducts.

The team won $3,000 in cash plus four hours of legal counsel, a scholarship from Forum’s Entrepreneur Academy and the opportunity to present at Angel Capital Expo—a Keiretsu Forum premier gathering of the angel capital community.  

“This is a gracious shark tank,” said Randy Williams, CEO and Founder of the Keiretsu Forum, to the audience gathered in Soda Hall to watch Saint Mary’s fifth annual Business Idea Competition, before introducing the judges who would vote on competitor’s presentations. 

As each student group of competitors got up to present their project, the panel of judges offered in-depth feedback delivered with a kindness that was unique to this forgiving environment. Judges gave advice on how to dial the businesses in, sustain pricing models, research competition, and zero in a a tighter target markets.   

The second place prize for $1,500 in cash plus four hours of legal counsel and an opportunity to present at PitchForce, went to undergrad group Got It, composed of students Eugene Eisenman and Mele Pauli. The app would use RFID to tag your phone, wallet and keys so that you don’t lose them. 

Professor Berna Aksu, Director of the Center for the Regional Economy, also welcomed entrepreneur Ganesh Vishwanath, a previous presenter at the competition, at the beginning of the evening. Vishwanath shared what he had been up to since he had competed. 

“The idea was good. We didn’t give up,” he said. He explained that the feedback given to him had helped him to further dial in a functional business model for his company SeaNutri, now a global leader in seaweed-based organic agriculture inputs, as well as the first company to bring warm water species into North American agriculture. “The reason I joined Saint Mary’s,” Vishwanath said, “is because of social entrepreneurship and giving back.” His business model helps people in India—mostly women—have a sustainable livelihood. “We are one of the largest seaweed based agriculture growers back in India,” he said, “We are also registered in India, USA, Canada, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Nigeria and South Africa.” 

The night’s panel of judges included alum Shirley Gee, Managing Partner at Angel Plus, LLC, Aleks Gollu, a veteran of the supply chain and the Bay Area venture start-up eco-system, a Cal and MIT graduate, and founder of two new startups, Mary Jo Potter, founder and CEO of Healthcare Angels, alum Eric Clarke, Keiretsu Forum founding partner, and Jennifer Schneiderman, a financial advisor to entrepreneurs, Keirutsu East Bay Chapter member, and one of Morgan Stanley’s Praxis Group creators.