Over 80 young participants in the TechStars Startup Weekend Philadelphia joined forces in University City, Philadelphia, earlier this month to develop a problem-solving idea and create a prototype in just over two days. Three Fords joined or created teams that worked on one of nine projects over the course of the weekend. Supported by the Haverford Innovation Program (HIP), the students worked with entrepreneurial coaches from the Philly area, developing applied creativity and teamwork skills and exciting new startup ideas.
Jason Ngo ’21, Pelagia Maria Majoni ’22, and Saif Kureishi ’20 started the weekend with networking and idea pitching, then, along with the other participants, formed teams around nine distinct project ideas. On Saturday, the teams fleshed out their ideas and built their prototypes, which included phone apps, tech tools, a nonprofit model, and even an automotive product. Coaching and check-ins on Saturday and Sunday helped keep the projects on track for final presentations on Sunday night.
By the end of the weekend, Ngo’s team had won second place for their app “Neck Up,” which combats neck pain from phone use by lowering brightness when the phone is held too low, encouraging the user to hold it higher and correct muscle memory. Majoni and Kureishi worked on “Hunger0,” which was inspired by an idea from Majoni’s math class and used mathematical concepts to determine how and when to plant crops based on past trends in order to produce a higher yield. Majoni, an international student from Zimbabwe, pitched the idea as a nonprofit model aimed at connecting farmers in rural African countries with microloans and technological resources to make the most out of their crops.
“I pitched my idea on the first day. That was scary and I thought no one would vote for it,” said Majoni, who is interested in physics, math, and computer science. “To my surprise, a lot of people voted for the idea, and so I recruited some team members, and we started working on the idea to make it more real and presentable. This was a great learning experience as l got to learn more about teamwork, business models and validation.”
Ngo joined forces with three students from Rowan University, a designer, an electrical engineer, and a physical therapist to build a viable model for “Neck Up.” With some former experience with Java, he took the lead on developing the Android app, which was a brand new experience for him. The project necessitated quick skill-building and collaboration, and aligned with his interests in computer science and startup culture.
“I got to meet and work alongside a lot of people ranging from professionals to students,” said Ngo. “I learned a lot more about making mobile apps and making business model, as well as the legal issues related to launching a startup.”
HIP supported student involvement by purchasing tickets for the event, and hopes to help the students build on their ideas back at Haverford. Founded during the 2016–2017 academic year, HIP strives to help students turn their problem-solving ideas into a reality. The Startup Weekend event was a good place for students to connect with creative minds in the Philly area and to hone their innovative toolkits. Now, Kureishi and Majoni both aim to further develop Hunger0 with HIP’s support.
“This helped me look at my ideas with more realistic eyes in real world scenarios,” said Majoni. “After this, and recognizing all the weaknesses in my idea, I will continue working with HIP to make this idea come true.”
Photo: Jason Ngo ’21 (top row, left) with fellow TechStars Startup Weekend Philadelphia attendees (top row) Mo Bing Chan, Nikita Patel, Rebecca Green (Rowan University), Bruce Willner, (second row) Daniel Petito (Rowan University), and Jacqualyn Washington.