Student entrepreneurs focus on food and mobility solutions at fifth annual Pitch Competition

April 2, 2018

Eleven cross-campus teams competed for the opportunity to win $5,000 in prizes.

Entrepreneurial thinking can solve just about anything. But can it help a picky child eat their veggies?

One team at UM-Dearborn's 2018 Business Idea Pitch Competition last week says it can. And with their five-minute presentation at the fifth annual College of Business event, they convinced the panel of judges too.

Earning first place and the fan favorite online vote, the Happy Tummy team—made up of members Alina Hernandez, a sophomore majoring in industrial engineering, and graduate students Raquel Estrada and Priyal Sheth—was awarded prizes, which included start-up money.

“So many parents have issues with having their kids eat, either because they will not sit still or because they are too picky. We hope our new design will add an element of fun—and education—for kids, and relieve stress on parents,” said Hernandez, who showed a 3D printed model of Happy Tummy they made in the Mardigian Library IDEA Studio to the judges.

The Pitch Competition, which buzzed with energy to a full house at Fairlane Center North last week, is designed to promote the entrepreneurial environment of campus by identifying and supporting promising new business ideas from students.

Students were encouraged to share their ideas for the chance to win $5,000 in cash prizes.  While hosted and led by the College of Business, students across campus are invited and encouraged to take part in the experience.

Although not limited to these topics, the focus for the entrepreneurial initiative is to provide solutions to issues surrounding healthy food and mobility/transportation, such as access, quality and education.

“We have been doing this for five years now, and the ideas keep getting better,” said iLabs Director Tim Davis. “Food and mobility have continued to be the focus of the competition because the problems you can work to solve in these areas applies to people here on campus, across the globe and everywhere in between.”

Eleven student groups competed for prizes—ideas ranged from Mealbox, which is an EBT-based delivery service with nutritionally healthy food and recipe cards, to Idle, a ride-sharing service with a structured app platform that gives mobility to others through short-term car rentals from individuals.

Competition judges were Innovatrium CEO Staney Degraff, Robert Bosch-North America Corporate Strategy Manager Preetinder Gill, ITA Head of US Beauty Sector Meredith Kerekes and Visteon Global Continuous Improvement Engineering Director Amy Lester.

On the stage, Hernandez explained to the audience that Happy Tummy is a kids’ feeding plate with an entertainment station included. The interactive plate, which is for children 18 months and up, holds their attention and facilitates healthy eating training through game play.

The plate shape is rectangular, but the food pathway is wavy and whimsical like Candyland game board—minus the obvious, of course. Kids can eat separated food portions on the way to the end, where a caregiver can elect to place a dessert.

Hernandez, noting the idea came from group members having young children in their families, said the interactive plate knows what the kids eat because of a built-in scale mechanism. And, as they eat, an application that runs on a computer screen—which is connected to the plate/scale—incorporates their food into learning modules kids enjoy.

Hernandez said the contest was a fun learning experience for her. It may be housed in the business college, but she appreciated everything she’s learned and can apply to her future career in engineering.

“Engineers are creative and we love to problem solve. But we might not know how to sell an idea,” she said. “With this competition, it is not just identifying and solving a problem. It is doing that and then learning how to best present these things in a confident way. We believe in what we are doing, but this competition showed me how to take that feeling and our research and successfully pitch it to an audience.”

Hernandez said the teams’ family members—and others they have spoken with— are interested in testing out a future product; the team will now look at next steps.

“When we did our research, there are parents—almost 90 percent—who really want Happy Tummy. I am excited to continue developing our idea,” she said. “We haven’t slept for days because we wanted everything to be perfect with the presentation. I’ll rest for a day, but not long—we have work to do.”

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