May 16, 2023
Demo Day 2023 spotlights entrepreneurial spirit among VCU students and alums
With support from Capital One, the da Vinci Center for Innovation delivers the platform for the pitch.
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From a good night’s sleep to the “joy” of towing, VCU Demo Day this year highlighted student and alum entrepreneurship that reflects the breadth of creativity cultivated on campus.
Virginia Commonwealth University’s da Vinci Center for Innovation, which holds the annual showcase, is a unique collegiate model of academic and experiential offerings that advance entrepreneurship through cross-disciplinary collaboration. Its Pre-Accelerator Program, known as Pre-X, helps students communicate ideas in a format designed for pitching to investors, sponsors and business accelerator programs. The experience culminates in Demo Day.
Over the past three years, Demo Day has connected more than 140 students from across VCU to potential funders as well as employers. Students from Pre-X have gone on to regional and national accelerator programs as well as to work for Fortune 500 companies.
Demo Day this year was held April 28 and was co-hosted by the VCU Shift Retail Lab, which lets student entrepreneurs test ideas through sales and customer feedback and then turn the ideas into action. Demo Day’s title sponsor is Capital One Financial Corp., a Fortune 500 company that is one of the Richmond area’s largest private employers.
“VCU Demo Day remains an inspiring event where our larger community can experience the creativity, tenacity and innovation that makes VCU and its students so uncommon,” said Garret Westlake, Ph.D., associate vice provost for innovation and executive director of the da Vinci Center. “Hearing from past Demo Day participants about how their VCU experience has shaped their entrepreneurial and professional journey was a highlight of this year's program. Thanks to Capital One for their ongoing support of innovation and entrepreneurship in our community.”
This year’s event featured four sessions with 16 teams pitching ideas or current ventures to a panel of judges from the da Vinci Center’s community partners and alums.
"The pitches were not only innovative and inspiring but also professional and polished,” said Mary Glerum, head of product and customer experience at Charlottesville-based lab technology company Cerillo and one of this year’s judges. “Having a product idea is one thing, but being able to tell a good story about why your product matters – to a single investor or to a worldwide market – is both an art and a science.”
Glerum is also project lead for ProductFest RVA, and some Demo Day participants will have a chance to pitch again at the product management conference on May 24 at the Dominion Energy Center.
Highlights of this year’s Demo Day:
* At the Ideas Session, students gave quick pitches about an idea waiting to be made tangible. The winner was Beddie – The Tall Friend Project, from entrepreneur Quynh Nguyen. She is a graduate student in VCU’s Master of Product Innovation program and is working on a product that helps our tall friends get a good night’s sleep.
* At the Academic Session, pitches showcased entrepreneurship and innovation in classrooms throughout VCU. The winner was FirstGFresh, from entrepreneur Jameira Saylor. She is a graduate student in the Master of Product Innovation program and is building a platform for high school seniors who will be first-generation college students.
* At the Alumni Session, the products and services being pitched were created by VCU graduates. The winner was Otterwise, from entrepreneur Aliyah Desautels. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 2022 and also is an alum of Shift Retail Lab and Demo Day. Her venture aims to make it easier for employers to vet high-quality hires and for candidates to be seen.
* At the Featured Session, seven student pitches focused on current ventures. The winner was TowNinja, from entrepreneur Jack Oppenheim. He is a graduate student in the Master of Product Innovation program who wants to improve the towing experience.
* After the sessions, 47 participating student, alum and community teams showcased ideas and projects in Shift Retail Lab at a reception. A People’s Choice Award, chosen by attendees, went to Morada Bowls, from entrepreneur Laila Dajani. She is an undergraduate studying business marketing, and her idea is to start a DIY smoothie bowl service.
Other pitch teams at Demo Day included the Math Path, Fusion AI Dynamics, 8Bus, Everything But the Booze (EBTB), Polavizor, Gewd Botanicals, Jawdropper Dental, C'est La Ve Vegan Charcuterie Packs, EmoteIt, Nationz Foundation – CreateAthon, and MammoRisk.
A video stream of this year’s Demo Day can be found at: 2023 VCU Demo Day Recording >>
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