A modest proposal

HOUGHTON – What if you found yourself alone with a powerful investor, a great product idea and just 90 seconds to convince him or her to help get your product going? That was the proposed scenario during Michigan Technological University’s Annual Bob Mark Elevator Competition Thursday night.

Students competed for the three top spots and an additional audience favorite prize. Individual students and groups pitched a variety of projects, ranging from Kitchen Server, an app that tracks foods in your kitchen that are about to go and provide you with appropriate recipes to Safe Straws, small cocktail straw-sized objects that change color when they come in contact with common date rape drugs.

Many students found that 90 seconds wasn’t quite enough time to lay out the purpose of the product, how it would be produced and how much start-up money would be required if the hypothetical investor would be interested. However, many found a rhythm that allowed them to get the point across quickly, sometimes with props.

Of the 21 ideas pitched, the judges picked the top three to be recognized at the end of the event. The Audience Favorite will be announced later today. The first place winner received $1,000, second place $500 and third $250.

Third place was awarded to Flashion, an idea presented by Armando Flores, Allison Berryman and Natalie Lebedeva. Their app would allow users to snap a picture of an item of clothing on a smartphone and then be connected with retailers who have a similar item.

“You take a picture and we match you with the results that most closely match that photo,” Flores said. “To make it even better, we link you directly to that retailer.”

In second place was Fair Share Tech, proposed by Abhilosh Kantamneni. Fair Share Tech is a small device that can be plugged into different rooms to track energy use by room, allowing bills in shared households to be split by individual use instead of simply down the middle.

“My roommate, she hates me,” Kantamneni said, listing a few examples of their differences. “she also seems to think I consume more than my fair share of electricity – simply not true.”

His theoretical product would ensure that everyone paid his or her fair share of the electricity bill. For the 40 million Americans he said were living in non-family households, the device could save time, money and perhaps a little resentment between roommates.

First place went to Nikoli Wiens with Clean It Up, a service targeted for college students going into the job market. With the help of Zach Eckert, Wiens began his pitch by showing an activity that college students might not want future employers to know about – chugging from a beer bong.

“I know I have a lot of questionable stuff on my Facebook, as I’m sure most college students do,” Wiens said.

What he didn’t realize that even if those questionable photos and posts are deleted from social media accounts, companies can pay to access them. With Clean It Up, Wiens proposed a service that would permanently delete that content so futures aren’t ruined by a party photo.

“I didn’t actually know that companies could pay to access that stuff but we actually had a speaker come in from FedEx to one of my classes and they were talking about how they weed people out by paying Facebook to access that content. They’ll reject resumes based on that,” he said. “That’s where I got the idea, there should be a way to delete the stuff.”

As for whether he will actually pursue the business idea, Wiens said he isn’t sure, but the prize money could help him if he decides to so.

“I’ll probably use it for some rent and food initially but I’m going to talk to the venture club about potentially pursuing a business opportunity and this would be helpful with that,” he said.