Heller students win big at Brandeis SPARKTank pitch competition

February 06, 2018

Heller students at the 4th Annual SPARKTank startup pitch competition

By Karen Shih

Heller teams won more than $22,000 in prize money at Brandeis’ 4th Annual SPARKTank startup pitch competition this weekend. Their ventures all focused on making a difference in the world through entrepreneurship, whether that was close to home in Boston Public Schools or across the globe in rural Zimbabwe. The competition, hosted by Brandeis Innovation, is a launching pad for teams like last year’s first prize winner WorkAround—also created by Heller students—which connects refugees to online employment. WorkAround went on to become a semifinalist at MassChallenge and took first place at the MIT Enterprise Forum/HUBWeek Beantown Throwdown.

The Heller teams that successfully pitched and received funding were:   

  • African Women Energy Solutions (AWES), $9,000. This venture by Enet Mukurazita, MA SID’19, Priscilla Rwandarugali, MA SID’19, and Gbenga Oni, MA COEX’19, economically empowers African women by bringing renewable sources of energy to their communities in a sustainable manner. AWES is partnering with a cooperative in Africa run by women to set up a local business that produces biogas from a community biodigestor. AWES won the Hult Prize at Brandeis competition in the fall.

  • Nomad Dairy, $7,000: Led by Roba Bulga, MA SID’18, this venture partners with pastoralist communities to distribute quality camel milk in Ethiopia. They provide existing cooperatives with the technical and business knowledge to access markets, starting with refrigerated transportation and expanding to value-added products. This team includes Elizabeth Keeffe, MBA/MA SID’18, Kyle Plummer, MBA’18, and Iwona Matczuk, MBA’19, and won the Heller Startup Challenge in the fall.

  • SafeRide, $4,500: This Liberia-focused venture aims to make motorcycle taxis safer. The goal is to create a network of licensed riders trained in defensive driving and equipped with safety gear. Passengers can request a ride through the SafeRide website or hotline and pay a standardized rate using a mobile money account. The project will begin in Monrovia with a pilot focused on university students, who are one of the largest users of motorcycle taxis. This team is led by Joe Wilson, MS/MA SID’19, and includes Lena Muntemba, MBA/MA SID’18, and Baker Kasawuli, MA SID’18.

  • sySTEMic Flow, $2,000: This nonprofit organization by Jessica Sanon, MBA’18, and Adwoa Asare, MBA’19, works with female minorities from 11th grade through the second year of college to stimulate their success in STEM careers. SySTEMic Flow provides pre-college courses, mentorship and access to practical experience to bridge the transitional gap that young women of color face when entering college. 

Participants of the 4th Annual SPARKTank competition, which was held at the Brandeis International Business School