01 May 2014

Harvard Business School Reveals Winners of New Venture Competition

Student and alumni teams inspired by belief that “one simple idea can change everything”

BOSTON—Wouldn’t it be great to have someone reliable clean your apartment, pick up your prescription, wait for the cable guy, run your errands, and buy your groceries? All that and more are possible for just $99 a month thanks to Alfred, a new venture being launched by Marcela Sapone and Jess Beck (both MBA 2014).

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Alfred is already a big winner. At Tuesday’s grand finale of the Harvard Business School New Venture Competition (NVC), which awards cash and in-kind prizes totaling more than $300,000, it came away with the $50,000 Dubilier Grand Prize in the Business Track (named after the late Martin Dubilier, MBA 1952, cofounder of Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, one of the country’s premier leveraged buyout firms).

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The Grand Prize in the Social Enterprise Track went to Saathi, founded by Amrita Saigal (MBA 2014) and Kristin Kagetsu. It provides affordable and available sanitary pads locally produced from waste banana tree fiber to women in rural India. Currently in operation in two villages, Saathi plans to expand soon to five villages and employ 50 women to make the product. It received the $50,000 Peter M. Sacerdote Prize, which was established through the generosity of the Sacerdote family to honor the late Peter Sacerdote (MBA 1964) and enable more HBS students to apply their skills to develop and launch their own social purpose ventures.

Now in its 18th year, the Harvard Business School New Venture Competition supports both students and alumni launching new business and social impact ventures. Entrepreneurs are “quirky, unreasonable, and irrational,” Meredith McPherron (MBA 1993), Director of the School’s Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, told an enthusiastic and boisterous audience of students and alumni in Burden Auditorium, and as such, “they are the people who are changing the world, changing the fabric of our economic culture.”

The capstone event of the School’s expansive offerings in entrepreneurship, this year’s NVC attracted 150 Harvard MBA candidates as well as students from six other Harvard graduate schools. In addition, HBS graduates from 17 HBS alumni “hub” clubs worldwide participated in 14 regional competitions.

Other winners in the student competition included:

  • Runner-Up, Business Track: Booya Fitness, founded by Pritar Kumar (MBA 2014), which aims to revolutionize the physical fitness industry with its on-demand video platform, featuring workouts created by the best boutique gyms and instructors. Kumar received the $25,000 Satchu-Burgstone Runner-Up Prize, endowed by Jon Burgstone (MBA 1999), Asif Satchu (MBA 1999), and Reza Satchu (MBA 1996), all of whom received the runner-up prize in the 1999 NVC with their plan for SupplierMarket.com. View Video
  • Runner-Up, Social Enterprise Track: Tomato Jos, founded by Mira Mehta and Nike Lawrence (both MBA 2014), Shane Kiernan of the Harvard School of Public Health, and Jared Westheim, is a vertically integrated tomato processing company that helps small farmers in Nigeria grow tomatoes that can then be made into tomato paste.

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As part of the Finale program, a member of each venture delivered a 90-second pitch to the audience, leading to an electronic crowd vote and another win for Saathi in the Social Enterprise Track. In the Business Track, the crowd gave the nod to Split’Ngo, founded by Sergey Kozhukhar, Vyacheslav Gorodetskiy, and Andres Aarmiento (all MBA 2014). The software they developed allows restaurant patrons to see their bill on their smart phone, split it, and pay – all without downloading an app or waiting for a server. Crowd vote winners walked away with a check for $2,500.

The official voting was done by a panel of distinguished judges, many of them HBS graduates, representing fields such as venture capital, angel investing, consulting, law accounting, life sciences, high technology, venture philanthropy, impact investing, social entrepreneurship, and academia. Over the course of the entire competition, which began last fall, more than 200 judges and mentors took part.

Other finalists in the student competition included easyBiodata, founded by Yu Kakitsubo, Pratik Agarwal, Peter Luptak, and Allyson Pritchett (all MBA 2014); Escala, founded by Jonathan Duarte (MBA 2014) and Juliana Uribe; and Willow Education, founded by Marc Casale and Heidi Kim (both MBA 2014), Mikey Muhanna, and Taylor Ansley.

easyBiodata, competing in the Business Track, plans to disrupt the arranged marriage practice in India by giving the power of control and choice back to prospective spouses. In the Social Enterprise Track, Escala enables low- and middle-income families in Latin America to pre-pay their children’s higher education, while Willow Education has developed tools to allow school leaders to understand the return on their investments in education programs -- what works and what doesn’t.

Alumni winners were chosen by an online crowd vote by other HBS graduates around the globe, HBS students, and a panel of expert judges in three categories – most innovative, greatest impact, and best investment.

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Representing the Southeast Asia HBS clubs region, the boutique investment bank York Street Partners, founded by Hiran Embuldeniya and Nayana Mawilmada (both MBA 2005) and Jayamin Pelpola (MBA 2010), topped the field in both the most innovative and greatest impact categories. Busbud, hailing from the Canadian region of HBS clubs and cofounded by L. P. Maurice (MBA 2008), was judged the best investment. The winner in each category received a check for $25,000.

Based in Sri Lanka, York Street Partners is deeply involved in providing advice and helping to implement investments that will transform the capital markets and economy of that island nation, as it emerges from longstanding internal conflicts.

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With offices in Montreal and New York City, Busbud offers a mobile app that connects travelers to bus operators, allowing them to search, compare, and book intercity bus tickets anywhere in the world. Available in 10 languages and 15 currencies, the app shows bus transportation options in more than 10,000 cities in 90 countries.

The mission of Harvard Business School is to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. All the participants in the New Venture Competition have begun to do that in the early stages of their careers, “turning roadblocks into avenues and hard questions into innovative solutions,” as they attempt to solve problems that will advance both business and society in new ways.

The Competition is sponsored by the School's Arthur Rock Center for Entrepreneurship, the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative, and HBS Alumni Relations.


Jim Aisner

About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 250 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and PhD degrees, as well as more than 175 Executive Education programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching, to educate leaders who make a difference in the world. The School and its curriculum attract the boldest thinkers and the most collaborative learners who will go on to shape the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.