DALI and DEN contest supports arts, innovation

by Margarette Nelson and Jessica Zischke | 11/2/14 6:14pm

For students without a car on campus, how does one spend the day skiing at Killington or watching a baseball game at Fenway Park? James Furnary ’16 and Ryan Buckvar ’17 aim to solve this problem with BusMe, an event-driven bus transit service that feeds upon a crowdsourced market.

Buckvar and Furnary pitched their idea to several dozen fellow contestants and organizers on Friday afternoon at The Pitch clinic, held by the Dartmouth Entrepreneurial Network, in preparation for the Neukom Digital Arts, Leadership and Innovation Lab’s competition, The Pitch, this term co-hosted with DEN for the first time.

The competition will take place on Tuesday afternoon in the Loew Auditorium, when 20 teams of hopefuls will pitch ideas to judges and a live audience.

Pulling together resources for design and innovation, the DALI Lab supports ongoing projects in the digital arts, including Digital Fashion, a project produce technologically-enhanced clothing and Art2Artifact, a database for information about ancient coin collections. It also supports student-created apps to improve information sharing about campus housing, energy saving efforts and dining options.

The DALI Lab held its first pitch competition last winter, encouraging students, faculty and staff to submit ideas for phone apps, business plans and more. Of 33 entries, judges selected eight as winners, including Word, a word game that incorporates physics; ArtxChange, an e-commerce site for art that incorporates fundraising into its sales; and RICE2 BioSurveillance, a project that collects data to help track disease prevalence in Vietnam.

Those that won stood out from the rest due to their originality and feasibility, DALI Lab executive director Lorie Loeb said.

“They were novel, realistic — we liked the idea,” Loeb said. “We thought the ideas were good and had the potential for impact.”

Winners receive support — ranging from capital to workspace — to make their idea a reality.

Loeb said that the winning ideas will not necessarily be those that have the best business plan.

“We want to see ideas that can really have a great impact on the world, whether it’s through social change or a new app,” Loeb said. “We just really want to hear those ideas more than the business model.”

During the two-minute pitches, judges look for how students articulate the problem that their idea will solve for, said New Venture Incubation Programs director Jamie Coughlin, who has served as a judge.

DALI and DEN bring together “the entrepreneurial perspective along with the building perspective,” Coughlin said.

One of the initiatives to “increase value” for the competition was Friday afternoon’s clinic, Coughlin said. Those planning to pitch on Tuesday evening were invited to hear advice from Matt McIlwain ’87, of Madrona Venture Group. Participants could practice their pitches in front of a live audience, with McIIwain giving real-time feedback.

McIlwain’s feedback at the clinic ranged from allocating pitch time to differentiating oneself from current players in the market, Coughlin said.

Coughlin compared The Pitch to ABC’s competition show “Shark Tank.” But the contest is more about creating a platform to express ideas rather than sifting through and identifying who has the best ideas, like the reality show’s intention, Coughlin said.

Last winter, the organizers had only received one application before the night of the event, Loeb said. This year the 20 spots filled within a few hours of the midnight opening on Oct. 21, Loeb said.

By morning, they had received twice as many applicants as they had room, Coughlin said.

Coughlin called the field of applicants diverse, ranging from web or mobile applicants to social venture opportunities — in line with “the spirit of our definition of entrepreneurship.”

One group, comprised of Rebecca Leong ’15, Delainey Ackerman ’15, Sophia Schwartz ’13 and Patricia Neckowicz ’15, will propose an app that is intended to be a tool for physical therapists to better serve patients, Leong said.

The idea, which stemmed from Ackerman and Schwartz’s experience as competitive skiers, would enable physical therapists to measure the angle of patients’ knees when they landed from a jump, allowing them to track patients’ progress.

Matt Ritter ’15 and Stephen Malina ’15 submitted their thesis project, Repcoin, to the competition this term. Repcoin aims to create the first market-based approach to online reputation, through which people can receive investments from others in various categories, much like endorsements on LinkedIn.

Without the competition, it would be nearly impossible to gather a large audience to hear about Repcoin, Ritter said.

Ritter and Malina, who are DALI Lab mentors, have already worked closely with others in the lab to develop their idea further, Ritter said. Because of the existing support, he said, they are not as reliant on winning the competition and will continue working on Repcoin regardless of the outcome.

“It’ll be tougher if we don’t win, but we’ll basically do the same stuff: generate hype, work on it a lot,” Ritter said.

Ke Zhao ’17, who will be pitching with Amy Yang ’17, emphasized the advantage that a live audience offers — presenters can gauge audience members’ reaction to their idea.

“The great thing about The Pitch too is just being able to gauge the audience reaction during the pitch,” Zhao said.

Zhao and Yang are pitching an app, tentatively named Stitch, that will “stitch” together articles based not only on content, but also on estimated reading time.

They hope to receive assistance with technical support and market research to evaluate the app’s demand, Yang said.

The DALI Lab and DEN will also hold the competition again during the winter and spring terms.

“I see it being a regular part of the entrepreneurial, creative, innovative spirit really taking off at Dartmouth,” Loeb said. “I see this as an opportunity to really light up the College with this idea.”

Coughlin said he hopes that the repeatability of the competition will make aspiring entrepreneurs plan for the competition going forward.

As the program develops, Loeb also said she hopes that they will better support winners and grant more applicants the help that they request.

“It’s a motivation to just keep on thinking creatively,” Loeb said. “There hadn’t been, up until recently, a lot of support for people who wanted to develop their own tech apps or start businesses.”

Past winner Delos Chang ’14, of HousingCake, a site that automates housing searches, said that he is “immensely appreciative” of the support that he received from the DALI Lab after winning the Pitch competition.

“They supported me not just financially, but also gave me a great space to work in and an incredible network,” Chang said. “It was a very supportive environment.”