Skip to main content

Students Pitch Ideas with Impact as Startup Yale Goes Virtual

“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong,” said Yale Center for Business and the Environment executive director Stuart DeCew, quoting Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, as he kicked off the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize finalist showcase, the first event of Startup Yale 2020. 

start up yale

With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, Startup Yale — an annual event that brings together pitch-offs for Yale’s biggest entrepreneurship awards — had moved online, suddenly transforming from a two-day event full of panel discussions, receptions, and more to a series of pitch-offs on Zoom. But, DeCew, noted, Yale’s innovation community, from the network of centers who form the Yale Entrepreneurship Collaborative to the students whose ideas the event celebrates, had rapidly adapted, embarking on the adventure of a virtual Startup Yale together.

Over April 16 and 17, several hundred audience members joined this adventure as well, as the event’s five pitch-offs saw record attendance numbers. As students pitched their ideas from their homes, a sense of community was palpable despite the distance. “The biggest surprise for me was how agile everyone was in adjusting quickly to a virtual competition,” says Clare Leinweber, Tsai CITY executive director. “With very little time, multiple innovation centers and organizations at Yale collaborated across a number of stakeholder groups to assure that Startup Yale would go on.” The resulting virtual events found an engaged audience. In addition to input from the pitch competitions’ expert judges, teams also got a chance to hear from the audience through Zoom-enabled audience polling and Q&A — the closest thing to presenting to a full room.

“With very little time, multiple innovation centers and organizations at Yale collaborated across a number of stakeholder groups to assure that Startup Yale would go on.”


While students pitched ideas on a wide range of topics, from health-focused technologies to civic innovation in New Haven, COVID-19 and its immediate effects loomed large in conversations throughout Startup Yale. Many teams’ pitches focused on how they had shifted in response to the pandemic, covering both how the crisis had paused their own plans (with storefronts temporarily shuttered, for example, or prototyping facilities closed) and how they were working to help support their core communities in a time of acute need, from offering free resources online to expanding access to medicine. In parallel to the pitch-offs, Startup Yale organizers created a digital showcase on the Startup Yale website, putting out a call to Yale student and alumni startups who were looking for support during the crisis. The resulting page highlighted these teams and how others could support them, from purchasing products online to sharing educational tools or (in the case of 2019 Sabin Prize winner GreenGear Supply Co.) donating to an effort to get PPE in the hands of medical workers.

Over the course of the two days of pitch-offs, the event’s nearly 20 prize finalists shared their ideas and competed for thousands of dollars in funding. Meet the winning teams:

Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize

Given this year’s constraints, the Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize took a new approach — during last week’s Startup Yale event, the four finalist teams pitched to the public and each received thoughtful feedback from the judges, in addition to $2500 in initial funding. Over the summer, they’ll receive mentoring and other support as they continue to develop their projects, ahead of an in-person pitch-off tentatively planned for the fall. “The Sabin Prize is one of my favorite events of the year, because it displays the boundless passion, dedication, and creativity of Yale’s environmental innovators,” reflected Tsai CITY/CBEY innovation fellow Ben Soltoff after the event. “This year, as the finalists boldly pioneered a virtual pitch format, they put those qualities into action more so than ever before. I was immensely proud to see everyone involved in the event rise to the challenge of the moment.”

Audience choice award winner: Floe

Floe is an automated, safe, and energy-efficient solution to prevent the extensive water damage caused by ice buildup on roofs and similar infrastructure in the winter. Compared to the benchmark product, their sustainable solution offers customers significant cost savings and produces 1% of the emissions.

Rothberg Catalyzer Prize at Yale

This $15,000 cash prize is awarded by the Yale Center for Biomedical Innovation and Technology and the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking to the best student-led venture focused on developing an innovative hardware solution to a medical challenge.

Prize winner: CtrlTrial


Powered by AI and Natural Language Processing, CtrlTrial accelerates the patient screening process for clinical trials by automated scanning of clinical trial protocols, patients’ electronic medical records, genomics data and real world data.

Audience choice award winner: ThermaBand

Imagining a world where we control our thermal comfort and wellness naturally, effectively and stylishly, ThermaBand will empower individuals to moderate their body temperature without changing the thermostat levels, undergoing invasive treatments, or using current ineffective or undesirable solutions.

New Haven Civic Innovation Prize

Screenshot from DreamKit's virtual pitch at Startup Yale

This prize, in its inaugural year, awards $10,000 to the best student-led venture, project, or policy focused on benefitting the city of New Haven.

Prize winner: Havenly Treats

Havenly Treats is a food business and job and leadership training program for refugee women. Havenly is women-run and its objective is to become refugee-run by 2030.

Audience choice award winner: DreamKit

DreamKit is a 501(c)3 social impact start-up that leverages technology to create a city-wide data-driven ecosystem that supports homeless youth financially, socially, and professionally.

Rita Wilson Prize Fund in Support of Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Also new this year, this prize (managed by InnovateHealth Yale) awards $10,000 to the best student-led venture focused on creating a technological solution to address a health disparity in the United States.

Prize winner: KovaDx

KovaDx is making the diagnosis of blood cellular morphological diseases quick and affordable by combining 3D Phase Imaging with Deep Learning.

Audience choice award winner: EnlighteN

EnlighteN Naloxone Sensory Injector is a technological solution to the growing number of opioid overdose deaths that occur when patients are alone.

Thorne Prize for Social Innovation in Health or Education

This $25,000 prize, also managed by InnovateHealth Yale, honors the best student-led venture focused on social innovation in health or education. “Now more than ever, we need creative, intelligent, and passionate public health entrepreneurs. This year’s participants, judges, and supporters show us that together we can create innovative solutions. The 2020 Wilson Prize and Thorne prize brought together the very best of our community and I am excited to see our outcomes,” reflected InnovateHealth Yale’s Fatema Basrai, continuing, “Through individual coaching, professional mentorship and funding opportunities, IHY is committed to supporting students as we work on current and future public health challenges, and I look forward to Startup Yale 2021.” 

Prize winner: ePharmHub

ePharmHub offers a mobile application where patients can search medications and find pharmacies that have the medication in stock, displayed from the closest to the furthest. For patients who cannot afford their medications, they can send a link to a relative abroad who can purchase the medication for them with just a few clicks.

Audience choice award winner: iDocta

iDocta’s mission is to provide quality healthcare by increasing access to health professionals for patients everywhere through telemedicine services and in-person appointments using microinsurance as a catalyzer.

In addition to these honors, Yale’s MBA Impact Investing Network & Training (MIINT) chapter, a student group, selected Floe as its “most investable” team, awarding $2000. Meet all the finalist teams, across all five prizes, here.

Throughout Startup Yale’s two days, one theme stood out: Yale student innovators’ commitment to creating meaningful impact. “My biggest takeaway is how laser-focused Yale student entrepreneurs are on improving the world – the health of the planet and the life that inhabits it,” said Tsai CITY’s Leinweber after the event’s conclusion. “Startup Yale reinforced for me what a profound strength this is at the university and how lucky we are that student innovators are focusing their attention and problem-solving skills in this way. I am both proud and grateful.”