Useful solutions with lasting impact

February 1, 2023

UM-Dearborn’s Business Idea Pitch competition awarded $5,000 in scholarship prizes to student projects focused on solving accessibility and mobility concerns.

Photo of two students pitching business ideas in front of a PowerPoint
From left, Computer Science major Huda Hussani and Cybersecurity major Shams Ahson present their idea, cARe Connected Lenses, at the 2023 Business Idea Pitch competition. Photos by Karl Ford

When arriving in the U.S. to attend UM-Dearborn, Mhithunaa Ramesh needed furniture and home goods for her apartment and books for the classroom. But the international student didn’t know where to go at first — Meta Marketplace was too expensive and secondhand stores were too far away since she didn't have a car.

Now in her second semester at UM-Dearborn, Ramesh, a Business Analytics graduate student, has discovered campus resources and created a strong personal network that helped connect her with what she needed. But she, along with Robotics Engineering graduate student Anto Jayson Gerald, wanted to come up with a tech savvy long-term solution that promotes an easy way for UM-Dearborn community members with household items, books and more to pass those along to students in need at a low cost.

So they decided to take part in the College of Business’ Business Idea Pitch competition, developed a concept for a UM-Dearborn-based app called Students to Students (S2S), won funding to get it started, and are now working on a plan to make it happen.

“From experience, we knew it was a needed service, but the Business Pitch Competition helped us visualize the product, explore its user market, and gave us assistance on how to communicate our idea,” Ramesh said. “We are now talking with the College of Engineering and Computer Science and the College of Business to see if developing Students to Students could become part of a capstone project.”

 Robotics Engineering graduate student Anto Jayson Gerald presents the Student2Student idea at the Pitch Competition.
Robotics Engineering graduate student Anto Jayson Gerald presents the Student2Student idea at the Pitch Competition.

The pitch competition, which took place Jan. 26 in Fairlane Center North, had seven finalist teams competing for $5,000 in scholarship prizes. Students participating in the event had five minutes to pitch their business idea — which was encouraged to address a community problem connected to healthy lifestyles, food access or mobility — to a panel of judges. The panel of alumni business leaders and faculty rated the pitches based on both the presentation and the quality of the business idea.

COB Associate Dean Tim Davis said the Business Idea Pitch competition, now in its ninth year, gives students the opportunity to apply their creative problem solving and critical thinking skills to pressing community concerns.

“Recognizing the value of the entrepreneurial mindset to all individuals and careers, our goal for their competition is for students to be empathetic and create solutions that provide value for customers with a problem or need,” Davis said.

The other awarded projects were:

• MBA student Farzana Fariha’s Connecting Pieces, an online community that helps caregivers and people with special needs connect with each other and/or find local healthcare providers, as well offer recommendations for businesses that have helpful accommodations, upcycle gently used equipment.
• Computer and Data Science major Shouryan Nikam’s CookShare, an app that helps people or businesses with excess prepared food immediately connect with people seeking meals at a low cost.
• Computer Science major Huda Hussani and Cybersecurity major Shams Ahson’s cARe Connected Lenses, a portable and affordable augmented reality system connecting emergency medical professionals to specialty doctors providing medical care in rural or underserved communities.

Hussani and Ahson said they have previously participated in regional hackathons and were impressed that UM-Dearborn offered its own pitch competition.

“If you have ideas, even the best ideas, no one will listen if you don’t know how to clearly explain how it can be beneficial and applied — and you need to do it with enthusiasm,” said Hussani, who put on AR glasses Blues Brothers-style with her project partner at the end of their presentation. “Competitions like this help you learn how to do that.”

In addition to the competition itself, several workshops took place before the event to help students organize their ideas, craft their pitch and polish their presentations.

“When we talk to employers, we hear common themes in the skills they are looking for — creativity, critical thinking, clear communications,” said COB Dean Raju Balakrishnan. “This competition and the workshops leading up to it allow students to develop and demonstrate all of these skills and put them together in a cohesive manner.”

Following their win, Ramesh said she is grateful for the experience and is excited for the next phase of their S2S idea.

“Participating is good for a resume, but it goes beyond personal gain,” she said. “This is creating a useful solution for future students that will have a lasting impact in our community.”


2023 Business Idea Pitch judges were Mitchell Business Communications Lab Director Jennifer Coon, New Economy Initiative Executive Director Wafa Dinaro, ‘04 B.A., Focus on Execution Consulting Operations & Program Management Practice Director Maria Welborne, ‘90 B.S.E., and Marsh Senior Vice President David Yesh, ‘83 B.A. Article by Sarah Tuxbury.