UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A digital solution to problems faced by both tenants and property owners was the winning idea in the 2022 Bardusch Family IdeaMakers Challenge, held April 6 during Penn State Startup Week powered by PNC and hosted by the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST).
WeAreLiving received the top prize of $5,000 in the final pitch competition. The team’s innovative solution — an all-in-one online marketplace for tenants to find roommates, resolve tenant disputes, exchange leases and learn important information about the housing process — aims to solve an asymmetrical knowledge gap that the team member say exist in the market.
“As a first-time renter, I was uneducated about the housing process resulting in conflicts with my landlord, so this was something very personal to me,” said Tanishq Barot, a second-year student studying human-centered design and development and founder of WeAreLiving. “Through our research, we found that there are a lot of other students that aren’t aware of support that they can receive. We are trying to educate them.”
To do that, students on the team drew from what they’ve learned in their coursework. First-year student Spenser McLaughlin directly applied concepts he’s learned so far in IST’s enterprise technology integration program.
“My major is all about connecting development and entrepreneurship,” McLaughlin said. “That is exactly what we are doing with WeAreLiving, so it is great to get real experience in that.”
For fellow teammate Carolyn Hearn, a first-year student studying marketing, having the opportunity to further develop and speak about the project under a strict time constraint was her biggest takeaway — which, she said, could lead to future improvements as the team further finesses their idea.
“We really discovered a lot through having to make this pitch deck,” she said. “It caused us to generate ideas for our streams of revenue that really went further than they had been before.”
Other students on the WeAreLiving team include co-founder Dana Lynch (engineering), Max Cheever (computer science), Max Krasowitz (IST), Parker Lewis (computer science) and Frederick Sion (computer science).
The second-place, $2,500 prize was presented to Groupit, an application that makes it easier for individuals to pay their portion of a group bill or expense — for example, their meal at a restaurant or their share of a collective utility bill. The solution, presented by a group of students at Penn State Berks, aims to remove the responsibility of one single entity that represents a party to be financially responsible for group transactions. Their escrow-style service provides a middleman figure that takes accountability and liability of each person’s share of a group payment, providing security to a user who wants to participate in a group payment but not incur all of the financial responsibility.
“When you are traveling with friends or people you don’t know well, a common problem is how to agree upon group payments — whether through a single entity submitting a payment or multiple people collaborating to make a payment,” said Matt Christianson, a second-year student studying cybersecurity analytics and operations. “We want to remove the responsibility of one single entity that represents a party to be financially responsible for group transactions.”
Other students on the Groupit Team include Timour Almakaev, Reksa Pich, Mason Fontana and Josh Perrine, who are all majoring in cybersecurity analytics and operations.
In addition to their second-place finish, Groupit was also presented with the Dave Hall Award, given to the team that best exemplifies collaboration and innovation. The award is named for the late dean of the College of IST, who was instrumental in developing Startup Week, which launched in 2012 as IST Startup Week, and the IdeaMakers Challenge.
Placing third in the challenge was 42MORO (pronounced “for tomorrow”), a solution to assist farmers struggling with crop loss in open-field and greenhouse applications. David Moyer, a third-year student studying computer science, presented the idea from his team, which includes Penn State students Evan Hrivnik (business), James Talmadge (science) and Jorge Jaramillo (plant pathology); and Evans Murei from Egerton University in Kenya.
Derris Boomer, CEO of Boomer Technology Group, and Jayme Goldberg, founder of Consequential Flowers, served as judges for the competition after leading separate Startup Week discussions at the College of IST earlier in the day. Entrepreneurs themselves, the judges said that they recognized the passion, hard work and knowledge of each of the teams in the competition.
“It was very interesting to judge because the ideas are all totally different and are ideas that I never thought about to do as a business myself,” said Boomer. “I thought it was really unique.”
Elizabeth King, consultant and retired former vice president of global human resources solutions and services at Starbucks Corporation, served as the keynote speaker. A Penn State alumna, King was a judge for the IdeaMakers Challenge in 2019 and served as a mentor to the competition’s winning teams the last two years. In her speech, she applauded the challenge for improving participants’ public speaking skills and for teaching business lingo to technically minded competitors.
The Bardusch Family IdeaMakers Challenge, supported by Penn State alumni Bob and Susan Bardusch, is a one-and-a-half month-long competition in which students receive mentoring from faculty, industry leaders and experienced entrepreneurs to develop their idea pitching skills for a chance to win prizes that advance their idea and professional network. In the final pitch challenge, interdisciplinary teams of undergraduate students present their early-stage business ideas where information technology is a core component of the business model.