Innovate@BU will host the third and final round its largest annual New Venture Competition Friday. The competition will feature 12 finalists representing nine different schools and colleges within Boston University.
These ventures are founded by BU undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students as well as recent alums — all united by a shared entrepreneurial spirit and vision for the future.
The $64,000 worth of prizes will be awarded based on the finalists’ solutions to address critical, unaddressed problems and showcase their project’s potential to grow and maximize impacts, said Li Liang, the managing director of the BUild Lab Student Innovation Center.
“These ventures that are developing meaningful solutions to address large important unmet needs,” she said, “and demonstrating the highest potential to turn the ideas into scalable ventures.”
Liang said the judges consider factors such as the viability of the business model, the testing of the problem and solution, the profundity of their thinking and their team dynamic.
The work is particularly admirable, she said, because students are dedicated to pushing forward their ideas at the BUild Lab despite the difficult year.
“I am inspired by the hard work and the good work that all the student teams have engaged in,” Liang said. “They’re committing to making change, and they’re doing the hard work to create change.”
Students and recent alumni compete in teams on the venture of their choice, working on their projects with Innovate@BU resources and support.
Victoria Kinnealey, a master’s student in the Questrom School of Business, developed Viinko — a digital time management and planning platform and app — after seeing her younger brother struggle to manage the emotional toll of his high school coursework.
With Viinko, educators can regularly monitor and check in with their students to prevent them from falling behind and assess what skills students need to further develop.
“With Viinko, you have this planner that already is giving you insights and support and guidance and advice,” she said in an interview, “but then all of that is feeding into your special education teacher as well.”
The app is designed to assist students both in and out of school. Kinnealey said she hopes to integrate this tool in the middle and high school curricula — where she said these skills need to start being developed — starting with special education classrooms.
“It’s not something that a parent buys, and if you have a parent that may not have the means to purchase this or may not be aware of it, then you’re missing the opportunity,” she said. “We really want it to be like every kid has access to this education.”
Kinnealey said developing time management skills early on can establish a strong foundation for future success.
“The ideal situation is that kids start using Viinko in sixth grade,” she said. “They have support developing these skills from the onset and then they may continue to rely on the Viinko planner through high school, but the hope is that they’re learning these skills in sixth grade so that they’re not falling behind.”
Kimberly Bress, a master’s student in the BU School of Theology, taps into her eight years of living in a Buddhist monastery to provide access to meditation resources through directing Turn In. Reach Out.: a grassroots organization providing social and emotional health support for Black, Indigenous and people of color communities and promoting racial justice.
She said this work is an extension of her own commitment to “equity and belonging in American Buddhist practice spaces,” which she said are largely white-dominated.
“During my time at the monastery, I struggled a lot with issues of equity and belonging based on my experience as an individual with disability and as a woman,” Bress said. “I had a first-hand experience of marginalization and I realized that … people of color experienced unique challenges.”
Turn In. Reach Out. seeks to share tools such as meditation with marginalized communities by “empowering organizations that are already trusted in those communities” with social and emotional learning education.
While she said came to this work as a faith leader, not as an aspiring entrepreneur, Bress credits her convictions, values and passion for her success.
The NVC’s finale will be held Friday via Zoom. Audience members will be able to hear each of the finalists’ pitches and cast votes to select the audience favorite.
Liang said she is proud of all entrepreneurs in the competition, not just finalists, and she wants any aspiring entrepreneurs to know they can have a home at the BUild Lab.
“At the BUild Lab, we believe in really having students from all backgrounds, all disciplines, all schools, all majors to come participate,” Liang said, “because we really believe that every single one of us has our unique creativity and talents, and we want to just help anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur and create change.”