Barry Nalebuff is perhaps the Simon Cowell of Yale’s School of Management. On Friday October 10th, Nalebuff—a professor at SOM and the founder of Honest Tea—served as a judge for the Yale Entrepreneurial Society’s (YES) pitch competition.
Over 40 people crowded into a room at the Center for Engineering, Innovation, & Design to hear fourteen students pitch their startups. Some of the students had full-blown businesses. Others only had ideas. But all of them hoped to win YES’ $500 first prize.
Tied for third place were Junzikitchen and Trinity. Junzikitchen was started by a School of Forestry & Environmental Studies student named Wanting Zhang. Her plan is to create the Chipotle for Chinese food. Zhang is no newcomer to the restaurant industry. She has operated two fro-yo stores in Connecticut that have netted over $1 million in sales. “We envision our solves being the leading national brand for casual Chinese fast food,” she said.
Trinity, the other third-place winner, is building a mobile mesh network that offloads cellular data demand from overloaded cell towers. The Trinity Team—Jon Lao (YC ’14), David Cruz (YC ’14), Stephen Hall (YC ’14), and Tyler Reynolds (YC ’14)—came up with their idea at last year’s Harvard-Yale tailgate. They noticed that they didn’t have cell service because the networks were overloaded. They were, however, still able to connect to WiFi when they were in range of a router. The team realized then that they could design a system that would allow phones in the crowd to relay Wifi signals to one another—an impromptu network. That way, people could connect to the Internet without using a cell service provider.
In 2nd place was Prepd, which makes software for competitive speech and debate teams. Up until a few years ago, students weren’t allowed to use laptops or tablets during debates. When the rules were finally relaxed, Ian Panchevre—the founder of Prepd—saw an opportunity. His software, which allows teams to organize their evidence in a way that’s accessible during a debate, has been purchased by 209 teams across the country. Four thousand users have uploaded over four hundred thousand articles to the service. Prepd has already takes in over $50,000 in revenue without spending a dollar on marketing. Most schools that sign up for Prepd hear about it from their competitors and coaches.
Nick Andris (SOM ’16) took home the first prize for a product called Ovote. Ovote, a polling app aimed at organizations, takes the guesswork out of giving people what they want. Companies can post pools and get feedback from their potential customers. In return, customers are offered discounts. Modern Pizza, for example, could solicit ideas for the next pizza of the month. “In one vote, you can impact the organizations you care about,” said Andris.
Nick Andris hopes to use the money to make sure Ovote is ready for its January launch. “In this room, there was an incredible collection of minds and ideas,” he said. “The idea [for Ovote] came to me at a university, and I hope it can grow at this university.”
At the end of the event, Barry Nalebuff offered the attendees some advice. “Normally, I think students should not start a business,” he said. “You don’t have the capital, the expertise, the time. But if it’s a business that solves a problem that students have, you have an advantage. You have the knowledge. If you’re going to make it work, you should be able to sign up a couple hundred people at Yale.”