In a display of entrepreneurial thinking, intense preparation and persistence, Maxim Zibitsker ‘19 won $10,000 in the final round of the 2019 The Pitch Contest on Thursday night. Zibitsker pitched his startup in front of a standing-room only crowd in the Vandervort Room. His idea, Aqua Salutem Technologies, uses artificial intelligence and a computer-based echolocation system to help minimize rescue response times for drowning victims and identify drowning before it occurs.
Amy Forbes, director of the Colleges’ Centennial Center, which organizes the Colleges’ signature entrepreneurial leadership contest, kicked off the event. In her remarks, she thanked Michael ’59 and Ellen ’60 Opell for their support of the HWS IdeaLab, which jump started the ideas of two of the evening’s finalists. She also awarded each participant with $750 for their participation.
Zibitsker, who competed in the 2017 The Pitch competition, will use the $10,000 grant as seed funding as he perfects his life-saving prototype, before distributing his service to household pools around the country. Inspired by his time working as a lifeguard, the project relies on the technical background Zibitsker has developed through his computer science coursework at the Colleges. Zibitsker refined his idea with the help of Daniel L. Rosensweig ’83, president and CEO of Chegg and former HWS Trustee. Read more about the impact HWS mentors had on pushing each team’s ideas to their fullest potential.
The 2019 The Pitch judges, who selected the winner based on presentation, innovativeness, viability, as well as the significance and impact of the idea, were struck by Zibitsker’s rigorous attention to research. Caroline Ross Galdabini ’89, head of marketing at Citi Private Bank, said his idea “touched on emotion” and had the potential to save lives. “This individual’s idea would connect with the consumer, is viable and innovative,” she said.
The other judges included Eric Cohler ’81, interior designer, art historian and adjunct professor of architectural studies at HWS; HWS Trustee Michael Rawlins ’80, P’16, principal user experience design architect for the Walt Disney Company; and Philip Yawman ’87, president at the Colley Group, Inc. Together, the judges brought a wealth of experience in the finance, technology, design and business sectors to the judging process. Their questions challenged each team to consider the market opportunity, audience and scalability of their ideas.
This year’s finalists also included:
Samuel Andra ’20, who created Sense, an advanced tremolo/vibrado system that aids in the prevention of guitar tuning issues. Andra’s tool helps guitarists expand the capabilities of their instruments and improve their creative ability, performance and potential.
Garrett Brzozowiec ’19 and Michael Harris ’19 collaborated on TouchTab, an integrated software application that enables customers at drinking establishments to display, track and close their tabs entirely from their smartphone. TouchTab includes a social media component and is designed to work with a bar’s already existing point-of-sale system.
Alexandria Knipper ’21, whose UVA service uses a unique identification questionnaire to strategically connect cancer patients, survivors and caregivers in an online cancer support community. Knipper’s work is inspired by her experience as a caregiver for a loved one diagnosed with cancer.
The evening included a flash pitch competition in which students presented a startup to the audience in 90 seconds. Contestants included Alexander Cohen ’20, Gabriella Milano ’19, Hannah Sailer ’21 and Cort Williams ’19.