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$50K Semifinalists Announced

By Dan Cho


Semifinalists for the 13th annual MIT $50K Entrepreneurship Competition were announced Tuesday night at a ceremony in Wong auditorium.

Following a keynote address, the 37 student teams chosen by judges this year each gave a brief presentation for their proposed company in preparation for the final competition in May.

One hundred fourteen teams submitted executive summaries to the $50K competition this February. This number was down from last year’s competition, which had 135 entries. In his opening remarks, competition organizer Michael Parduhn displayed a graph showing the close correlation between the number of competition entries and the performance of the Nasdaq over the past 13 years.

Wu discusses history of startups

The companies proposed by this years students include Agamatrix, which develops software for biosensors, a tissue-engineered heart valve company called Vascular Regenesis, and Wavewalk, which will make recreational boots that allow their wearer to walk on water.

The keynote speaker at the ceremony was Cheng Wu, described by Parduhn as a “serial entrepreneur.” Wu founded the startup Arris Networks as well as Arrowpoint Communications, which was sold to Cisco for $5.7 billion in 2000. Wu is currently Chairman of Acopia Networks, Inc.

In his speech, Wu discussed the state of entrepreneurship following this past year’s drastic downturn in the economy. He described the years between 1995 and 2000 as the “golden years” for startups.

“Right before the crash, everyone was in the mood, that if you have some idea that is good you can go out and get a company started,” said Wu. “You’re guaranteed to make a lot of money.”

“Today people are cautious about how to spend money,” Wu said. “Corporations don’t spend billions of dollars buying companies now.”

Wu then outlined some basic advice for today’s entrepreneurs, stressing a level-headed attitude and a focus on long-term growth.

Parduhn, however, said that this year’s entries were, on average, of “higher quality” than those in years past. As evidence, he pointed out that 37 out of 114 teams were chosen as semifinalists compared to only 32 out of 135 companies last year.

NovOculi captures new prize

New at this year’s ceremony was a $100 prize for the best one-minute company pitch. The winner’s of this year’s prize was NovOculi, which is developing novel tools and techniques for eye surgery. Andy A. Rubinson G led the MIT section of his team, which has members from Duke University and the University of Maryland. As a rule, every company must have at least one full-time MIT student in order to compete.

“Even though it’s a hundred, it felt like a million,” Rubinson said.

Although the NovOculi team has already won $80,000 in entrepreneurship prizes from the other universities, Rubinson felt the prize was an honor and a good sign for the company’s future.

Rubinson said he did not yet know what he will do with the $100. “For now, I’ll frame it.” he said.

Judging for the competition was by a panel comprising entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, lawyers, and industry experts. The semifinalists will submit complete business plans to the judging panel in April. The judges will then select a handful of teams as finalists who will deliver oral presentations to the panel. One winning team will be selected to receive the first place $30,000 prize and two runners-up will receive $10,000 each.