2020 It’s a Sprint of the Times

June 30, 2020

By: Dustin Britton

Startup Sprint Participants, Coaches, and Instructors saying good-bye over Zoom


The Summer Startup Sprint has found a way to carry on another round with teams and ideas as inspiring as ever. Despite the difficult circumstances affecting an interactive entrepreneurial program, teams from all over the country gathered as the next wave of promising startups coached through the Summer Startup Sprint program. Previously, the Sprint program, supported by the Convergence for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Institute, has hosted 104 teams that have gone on to earn more than $5.3 million in revenue and more than $4.9 million in grants. This year, 16 teams representing 10 NYU schools – undergraduates to postdoctoral scholars, faculty and alumni –  came together to receive invaluable coaching and funding from the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute. Instructors Frank Rimalovski and Rebecca Silver, directors of the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute, led a rigorous two-week program to help teams develop their ideas into something innovative and marketable by packaging them into business proposals and addressing the correct markets through customer discovery. The teams were tasked with 50 interviews of people who the teams considered to be part of a potential customer segment or critical to their business development. Each day the teams would receive mentoring from experienced entrepreneurship coaches to guide their new discoveries from these interviews into actionable direction, whether it be a change to the perception of their business model or a stasis of it. Expertise ranged from deep tech startups to socially focused ones where mentors Dr. Dee Dao, Emily Baum, Sara Thermer, and Sergei Revzin each were assigned to a handful of the 16 teams. Appropriately, and not without challenge, the teams, coaches, and instructors alike participated in the event through Zoom video calls. The commitment of everyone to the program clearly translated to success for the teams. 

Instructions were simple but demanding: work hard and come prepared. Teams were expected to adhere to a strict schedule of setting up, listening, and learning through customer discovery, preparing with the requisite videos, readings and presenting updates, and most of all helping each other through active participation. At the end, it was clear that each team was able to exceed these expectations and even have a quite a bit of fun. On the last day, each team was able to present a summary of their discoveries, insights they gained about growing a startup, and share the future direction of their idea: the finale.

First up was Co-Study, a startup committed to creating a student scheduling app to improve student group productivity and accountability. Led by Henry Kaufman, Brock Nelson Neev Mittal, and Wyatt Geiner, the initial value proposition for Co-Study was to create a single platform online that students would use to schedule and communicate including the functionality of voting for timeslots. This way students can be aware of each other’s availability in an organized way. Best stated by Henry, “our efforts through the program proved to be a rollercoaster.” Co-Study made several changes to their beachhead market. Not without merit, the startup assumed that full-time, undergraduate business and STEM students would be the customers that would receive the highest value and be the customer segment Co-Study should target. Immediately, Co-Study learned that this was quite a broad demographic and in general, these students did not have trouble with scheduling. They needed to figure out a hair-on-fire problem to establish a stronger initial market. And so, with the help of their mentor, Co-Study refocused and engaged several different demographics until landing on an updated customer segment: professors! Group projects, they discovered, are generally worth about a quarter of a student’s final grade and typically, the professors see a large range in the participation of the students in their respective groups. Thus, their idea could be used for professors to evaluate and assist groups in their respective projects through accountability metrics. It was clear that Co-Study made a tremendous stride in their business development during the program and instructor Rimalvoski was even keen to mention how amazing their growth has been and a fantastic way to kick off the finale of the Sprint. 

Next up was Anita, an enterprise for directors and change agents in large IT departments going through transformation by adapting a scaled and agile framework to visualize workflow, implement feedback, and monitor changes in their company. Anita has progressed incredibly in their development and is even at the stage of a landing page test at www.anitakit.io. Anita was able to perform 43 total interviews and noted that 30% were directors, and 70% were change agents. In this critical customer discovery stage, Anita noted that small businesses, development operations, and value stream mapping companies were not good fits for their product. They needed to focus on larger scale businesses that truly required the organization and communication tool that they are offering. Despite the growth and success noted by their product and customer development, they admit there is still much work to do. The program and mentors helped give Anita a scope into the work ahead as they realize that the customer segmentation needs to be focused even more. Anita is currently aiming to create a demo to show off the product and create a white paper to help them better understand the challenges that customers may struggle with. They hope to release a beta product by February! 

In the time of quarantine, one of the more topical and unique startups was Cartographr: an augmented reality application to help Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) facilitators visualize the game through a synchronized and modular experience. Rivelle Levine introduced her team of co-founders well, “We have assembled a team of heroes to embark on a unique quest. The only problem, they have never done anything like this before.” Although fans of D&D, they knew creating a startup based on their idea was going to be a challenge. However, Cartogrphr is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about the technology and solution needed. With the help of the mentors, they were able to create an extremely functional business model for their startup. Cartographr actually broke down their customer segments into three sections of needs: functional, emotional, and social. What they discovered through their interviews was that the social need for the product was of the greatest importance: D&D players desire most to be a contributor to their game! Those who contribute most and help imagine the setting of the game are known as Dungeon Masters. Cartographr interviewed Dungeon Masters of varying experience and skill level and further segmented them into: Planners, Improvers, and Hybrid (of the former two). From this, they were able to more thoroughly address the needs of these three types of customers in their product, even demonstrating videos and pictures during their presentation. In the two weeks of the Summer Sprint, Cartogrophr was able to realize their customer discoveries and mentor guidance into translated product change and a corresponding business model. It seemed that their quest is at the very least, off to a good start. 

Next up to bat was Repose. Created by occupational therapist, Runa Koli, and Steinhhardt graduate Matthew Stirling, Repose aims to create a wearable technology to prevent occupational therapy hazards. The wearable would measure tension and contraction in the shoulders and back. The project started from Runa’s passion in occupational therapy and noticing that many of the patients she sees can prevent the hazards they face and just need a little help. Through customer discovery, Repose discovered that many people slouched and felt they needed to adjust their sitting position. However, many also feel that they are satisfied with their current solution to this problem whether it be yoga or simply dealing with it. Thus, Repose went on a journey to tune their customer segments. They sectioned their potential customers to those that were: unsatisfied with their current solution, already wearing a wearable and into behavioral sectors: those with a self-optimization attitude, and those without. Finally, they discovered that 1 of 5 Americans wear a watch or fitness tracker. This told Repose that a great opportunity was ahead of them. Moving forward, Repose plans to refine their customer segment even further and consider the hardware realities and path around that. Instructor, Rimalovski, was able to send out the team with some pointed advice, “You don’t need to make an MVP, you just need to make sure there are good core assumptions before taking the next step.” 


Shespoke, a company that reinvents the way young women at top black schools search and shop for professional clothing, presented their findings next. Shespoke started with a broad business thesis that, they too, were able to refine to create a promising startup. Their idea is to provide convenient, made-to-measure career specific, stylish attire for an affordable price. They have noticed a prevalent problem for young female professionals: finding the right fit is usually a terrible and inequitable experience. Shespokes aims to empower women and increase their sense of self-confidence by creating a clothing line made for women of all types. Shespokes ended up presented a revised business model and product tuned to the needs that they discovered through tremendous data collection during their customer discovery phase. Shespokes found that 67% of American women wear a size 14 or above and the industry has not evolved fast enough to meet the new diversity in women’s body sizes and shapes. They too broke their customer needs into: functional, emotional, and social. In their case, these translated to: dressing professionally for a job, alleviating anxiety and frustration from fit clothing, and a sense of belonging and confidence. To see the needs of a focused customer segment in college students, Shespoke aimed to test their hypothesis: how much do college students care about the actual fit? Other assumptions included whether the cost to provide a tailoring service and professional attire would be less expensive than the cost to purchase off-the-rack options with tailoring, and that there will be a higher demand for people to shop post-COVID-19. Shespoke believed that this would result in an increased demand for their service. Shespoke went above and beyond by developing stages for customer fit. Here, they interpreted through customer discovery, that they need to discover various motivations, assess the need for clothing to fit well, and how their customers will evaluate the product. Despite finding that interviews with students were difficult during these times, they were able to recover the information needed to answer many of these questions and more. Going forward, they now have a plan to launch a website and apparel designs within 6 months and eventually partner with universities and validate their tailoring process. They finalized their presentation noting that they feel very good about the results and are enthusiastic after seeing the progress in their business thesis as well as the advice they received from the mentors and other teams!

Next, INVIYT, a startup focusing on matching like-minded professional women with each other into fun travel experiences, described their journey through the Startup Sprint. INVIYT strives to match their customers together through simple and effective surveys and provide travel experiences that match the personalities of their matched customers. These packages may include different hotels, activities, and locations to create a customized quality experience. Through their customer discovery, they were able to fine-tune their customer market from mature women passionate about international travel to 25-30 year old professional women. INVIYT revised their business thesis after interviewing customers who have already travelling and tapping into the feedback of women who, in particular, would likely not travel alone. They discovered that this is frequently the case. In the future, INVIYT plans to expand this customer discovery process to assess an even more detailed need for their service. With their bounty of insights over the last two weeks, INVIYT says that they have established a lively Facebook group of potential customers and is optimistic that they will reach 300 users in 3 months, 500 users in 6 months, and will have setup their app, user interfaces, and ‘matching’ algorithm. In 9 months, they hope to start their trip planning and checkout process.

DOTCHAT returned the presentations to the tech-based service startup promising business communities a place where solo entrepreneurs in tech can go to get help with adopting no-code productivity and automation tools through community sourced wikis. Dotchat is headed alone by Tem Nugmanov, currently and engaging the Summer Startup Sprint from his home on the west coast. With a charisma, Tem described his startup sprint experience through a presentation on general lessons in discovery for a startup. Tem has had an entrepreneurial experience already and was happy to inform the teams that even he has placed many important insights from the commitment and rigor of this program. His main three lessons were: 1) play the cards right, 2) take the boring stuff to heart and 3) do or do not do, there is no skip. To his business specifically, he learned that solo entrepreneurs, rather than large tech businesses, are who he should focus on as a target market. He feels this venture is promising as it is a problem he takes to heart and is passionate about. He used the Sprint to answer the ‘Why’ questions: why do they care? Why do they adopt? Why faster? Why is time important? He next would like to expand on his platform’s tools and interview the power user side and then launch a test landing page appropriately called .chat

The story continues with XLRIS. XLRIS is an AI monitoring and analytics to help locally owned grocery store managers keep volume during the COVID pandemic. XLRIS started with the feature to detect masks with AI monitoring. XLRIS stated well that their issue in the beginning was finding a specific target customer, a problem that seems to be prevalent and well solved by the Summer Startup Sprint program. Though XLRIS had paying customers, they never narrowed down a specific target customer. Previously it had been commercial buildings, retails stores, office buildings, etc. Next they were able to assess who has the greatest need. XLRIS believes that grocery stores fit this mold. What they did previously was ‘crime-detection.’ With the COVID pandemic, they needed to quickly shift, and the startup sprint helped them discover a fit with grocery stores and the need for mask detection features.

Next to the presenter stage was Tulii. Tulii performed 51 interviews and discovered that they have a 107 million dollar opportunity to sell their bioorganic skin treatment solution. Tulii’s problem: discovering the right customer. Similarly, they wanted to enter a competitive market and needed to assess what features they have that can help separate them and which customer segments have the greatest need for it. Initially, Tulii’s market was general and they learned that they needed to establish a primary customer. From customer discovery interviews, Tulii was able to parse the key features of their products with competitors’ from what their potential customers are currently using. What was unique about the group of people who were more willing to try a product that had the features Tulii could provide? A potentially viable group appeared to be people who had dry skin who ‘use food as medicine.’ Although specific, it was exactly what was expected by the coaches from this program: a beachhead market for early product adoption. Their business hypothesis has evolved to target customers who have an ayurvedic diet/lifestyle with dry skin and selling their product as the bioorganic and nutrient rich topical solution. Their greatest learnings included establishing social and emotional needs of their customer segments to hone-in on a specific beachhead market. Silver was sure to note, “It was clear how tangible the learnings from day to day progress have been on their startup idea.” 

Deep-tech based startup Veccnet provided a clear mission with an established product solution. Veccnet, headed by Kim Mahler and Tom Pechotta, want to provide the industry standard for connectivity to autonomous drones through a connectivity platform with data-fueled capabilities for advanced services. Quick to establish the need and opportunity, Kim noted that there is a $13 billion, $32 billion, and $45 billion industry for transport, agriculture, and inspection using drones respectively. The FAA projects 823,000 drones to be in service by 2023. However, Vecnnet hypothesizes that current LTE is not good enough to provide these services. But, Veccnet has the solution! By providing their customers a different interface for connectivity with a priority link, all long-range drones in any sector will be able to maintain control and reduce risk of accident. Through customer discovery, they found that only delivery drones need a connectivity as of today since the end user needs to be able to track the delivery signal for whether the delivery has arrived yet. With this honed target in mind, they were able to provide a more detailed business model canvas that they believe will poise their startup for success. With impressive technical stats on their product’s superior performance, a wonderful marketing video of what they provide, and a refined business thesis, Veccnet is looking at a promising timeline: conduct pilot project with potential products in 3 months, publish a paper on the performance analysis in 6 months, incorporate the product in the US in 9 months, and launch their pilot product and service subscriptions (~200) in 12 months. 

Poignant and topical, She Matters is a startup that wants to help black women through unaddressed post-partum experiences. Founder and CEO, Jade Kearney, shared her troubling experience as a black woman experiencing post-partum anxiety herself. Both through family and the healthcare system, she was unable to find the resources to provide sufficient support for her post-partum stress as a black woman. Her experience has motivated Jade and her team to end this issue with She Matters. She Matters initially set out to design a social media application to promote mental wellness among postpartum black women, ages 25-50, who experience extreme mental stress and live in metro areas. She Matters aims to provide a specific value proposition: building individual health habits that can be tracked and celebrated, to provide access to culturally competent therapists, provide validation via a community of mothers with similar postpartum experiences, and educate black women through culturally relevant resources. Experiencing these problems herself, Jade, with her team, used the Summer Startup Sprint to better define what wellness meant to their customers. After an astonishing 63 interviews, they found that many women felt that wellness meant spending time on their own, creativity outside of the house, and support when they need it. She Matters thus went out to meet those needs by inspiring black women to actively pursue their goals of wellness. Some of the services they will provide include virtual events, therapists to participate, etc. She Matters progressed so far as to provide subscription tiers for their product encompassing different levels of interactive service. In 3 months, they hope to host their first live events, in 6 months to generate consistent revenue, and in 9 months gain company sponsorships. After advertising on Facebook they found that their hypothesized need was overwhelming shared and their potential customers, most of all, wanted to participate in their virtual events. After the Summer Startup Sprint, She Matters also dropped the idea of a mobile application, an idea that Jade was “married” to. But as she and the coaches iterate: “Listen to the customer!” The application has been dropped for now and they are focusing most of all on the wellness of their new participants.

Maxwell strives to be a medical device company that addresses neurology related issues. Their startup is to provide a fully automated transcranial doppler device that is portable and will automatically place a probe in the right position and thereby reducing the change in measurement and measurement failure. Additionally, the doppler device would omit the need to hire an ultrasound technician to perform the research scans. The Summer Startup Sprint helped them direct their customer segment to neurology research facility clinicians and first responders. They found an existing market at $26.6 billion with a compound annual growth rate of 6.5%. 


The wide range of problems being solved continued with the now, relatively veteran, startup AMGO. AMGO started about a year ago as a video on demand platform for African movie studios. AMGO is headed by Nana Osei Aboagye, a NYU Tandon graduate who has seen the need for a Netflix like service for the Ghanian market. The value AMGO plans to provide is a no queue and hassle-free movie experience that is on-the-go and affordable. They have shifted to a pay as you go platform for African movies to premiere new releases on the service so as to reach a wider audience. Going into the Summer Startup Sprint, they felt the need for investors to help market their product. Through customer discovery and assessing the need of their product, they have realized AMGO will receive enough revenue early on in their venture such that investment is not needed! The coaching team was excited to hear the progress day-to-day throughout the Summer Sprint and to learn of the ongoing success with the AMGO team. 


As if from the ashes of MySpace, Sam Winslow aims to create a unique and self-proclaimed weird social media platform called Tunestack.fm. Tunestack.fm would provide a site for users to come together and share music while also providing artists and A&R representatives accurate data. Much was learned throughout the Sprint for Tunestack.fm. First, an initial hypothesis that the music industry representatives will pay for data collected by the site was disproven. Through customer discover it was discovered that A&R representatives care most what other people think in their network besides their ‘gut feeling’ about an artist and their music. Peacocks! Tunestack.fm provided a prescient slide on their customer segment through this unique metaphor. Tunestack.fm has ascertained a beachhead market in students who listen to college radio and to music journalists or enthusiasts who are motivated by their desire for self-expression and will take almost any chance to do so. “As a social network, Tunestack.fm is tapping into ‘animal instinct,’ and self-actualization through being able to provide influence through self-expression,” as Sam intuits. Compared to incumbent social networks, Tunestack.fm knows that it will start out with less convenience, less density of features, and less rich with data that would provide business value. Tunestack.fm will instead try to tell its customers who they are through risky and aggressive terms in order to stand out. The goal: “We see you and you matter,” Sam states. An initial social experiment was conducted to expand on this where Tunestack.fm surveyed audience through an online Buzzfeed-esque quiz telling its users it will know where they will “blackout” after quarantine by answering its personality questions. Following, it would provide the user a humorous answer and a Spotify playlist that matches it. The survey resulted in 200 shares. Tunestack.fm plans to quickly grow to 20+ schools through partnerships with college radio stations and conservatively hopes to reach 100k users across 10 liberal arts colleges in NYC. The coaches pushed Tunestack.fm to tease out what the customer wants, and ironically, it turns out Tunestack.fm’s service was determined to be its antithesis by providing customers with that very answer. 


A deviation from a Robert California type product evaluation, Stumped presented their findings of the Summer Startup Sprint next. Stumped is an online platform and trivia-based game strengthening high schools with authentic student-teacher relationships. Stumped is a web-based trivia game that assists high school teachers in increasing classroom engagement, attendance, and student performance by fostering new student-teacher relationships. Stumped was started by CEO, Jeffrey Kravitz, who wanted to increase engagement with students at his school. The game would work as follows: Students solve riddles and trivia questions made by a teacher. Once solved, the teacher who created the questions would be revealed. The student would then be tasked to meet the teacher and would receive his/her/their stumped card. The startup was able to transform their business thesis to a more specific and focused one by the end of the Startup Sprint: a web-based trivia game that assists high school teachers in increasing classroom engagement attendance, and student performance by fostering new student-teacher relationships. 


Last but not least was ShockTalk. ShockTalk is a startup that wants to address the dire need for solutions to mental health in the Native American and Alaska Natives (NA/ANs) community. ShockTalk aims to decrease adverse mental health effects in NA/ANs by connecting users to Native therapists trained and experienced in cultural humility through a tele-behavioral and wellbeing app that focuses on healing unresolved historical and intergenerational trauma. They noticed the lack of culturally competent ways to solve this issue. Their business thesis is to provide access to culturally appropriate tele-behavioral and wellness services that will increase the usage among NA/ANs and decrease mental health disparities. Through customer discovery they were able to verify the need of their idea in the community and they hope to create a service that solves an unaddressed problem for NA/ANs everywhere. 



The Summer Startup Sprint certainly lived up to its name this year. It is difficult and unfair to ignore the racial inequality and police brutality that has been ongoing in the country and the protests that have budded along with it. At the same time, the Sprint occurred in the midst of the COVID pandemic. Both are inarguably trying circumstances for everyone and we thank our teams for their added efforts during them and for trying to solve pressing issues all over the world at different scales. Each team exceeded their expectations even in the face of these circumstances and as the Sprints shifted online. It was clear the teams had unique and diverse goals they intend to solve, but they no doubt have all made strides to address them over these two weeks. The 13 days of mentoring and customer discovery manifested in tremendous development for the teams and even some complete shifts in the team’s business models. We are grateful for the 2020 participants and hope for their continued success. 


NYU Tandon School of Engineering’s CIE Institute supports initiatives that help faculty and students reach greater heights by harnessing important technologies and re- imagining business ideas. We catapult these ideas into advanced, problem-solving innovations to address society’s greatest problems.

Our mission is to increase diversity and multi-disciplinary in STEM entrepreneurship and provide guidance as well as resources for STEM innovators to start-up.


For more information about these programs, please contact us at cie@nyu.edu