Home heating company ecoVent wins MIT $100K Pitch Contest

Other winners include on-demand manicures and optical zoom for phone cameras

November 8, 2013

Pitch contest winners Dipul Patel, MBA ’14, and Yoel Kelman, MBA ’14 (Photo: Li Qiaochu)

Pitch contest winners Dipul Patel, MBA ’14, and Yoel Kelman, MBA ’14 (Photo: Li Qiaochu)

By the numbers, the 2013 MIT $100k Pitch Contest is as follows: 270 applications, whittled down to 60 semi-finalists, 18 of whom pitched their business idea for 60 seconds to a 291 capacity crowd Nov. 6 at Wong Auditorium, followed by another 60 seconds of Q&A by a panel of eight judges.

One winner took home $5,000.

But the lesson learned by Dipul Patel, MBA ’14, who pitched his ecoVent company to first place after a less successful entry last year, is that a winning pitch isn’t as much about numbers as it is about the fine art of messaging. Patel’s company produces a wireless home heating vent that can adjust a room’s temperature through smart heating registers. He said his 2012 pitch contest performance suffered through cumbersome descriptions of the technology, cost analysis, and market size. In short, too much to grab an audience with only one minute to listen.

“Last year, we had a lot of messages and we didn’t get very far,” Patel said. “This year, we focused on one word over and over—easy, easy, easy,” said Patel, holding an oversized check for $5,000 he’ll be putting into further development of ecoVent’s hardware. His product involves simply swapping heat registers, and plugging a few devices, “so we refined the messages on the impact of the user. It installs in hours. Anybody can do it. We kept it simple.”

The MIT $100K Pitch Contest is the first of three annual entrepreneurship competitions held annually by the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, and is designed to focus on idea generation, sharing, and connecting people with similar interests. Entrepreneurs hone the skills they will use when pitching to potential investors. Divided into six categories—Life Science, Web/IT, Emerging Markets, Energy, Products and Services, and Mobile—60 semi-finalists were selected through several pitch sessions earlier in the year.

At the Nov. 6 finale, 18 finalists pitched to a packed audience and a panel of eight judges, all business leaders, who then grilled the pitchers for a speedy 60 seconds of follow-up questions.

First runner-up for a $2,000 prize went to Polished, which promises to bring manicures and pedicures to private homes and offices, delivered with the ease of ordering a pizza. Sharon Mussalli, EMBA ’14, plans to launch the company in New York City, and will apply her winnings to trademarking and to addressing liability issues prior to launch.

Second runner up, for $1,000, went to Zooming Micro Camera, new technology that can add true optical zoom, rather than digital zoom, to mobile phone cameras.

Audience members also picked a winner, voting for their favorite pitch via text message after each of three rounds, with an ultimate winner chosen from the three top vote getters.

John Lewandowski and his pitch for Disease Diagnostic Group was the audience favorite, winning him $2,000, which he will use to develop prototypes for his malaria diagnostic tool for emerging markets. His compelling opening line and subsequent pitch has won several business plan and pitch competitions over the past year: “What if I told you I could save one million lives every year with just refrigerator magnets and a laser pointer?”

Keynote speakers Wayne Chang and Jeff Seibert, founders of Crashlytics, addressed the audience about enhancing and engineering customer emotions. Crashlytics addresses crash reporting for mobile devices and apps, and was sold to Twitter for reportedly more than $100 million earlier this year.

The MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition annually awards $350,000 in prize money through the Pitch Contest and two other programs. Accelerate pairs 36 teams with mentors and other entrepreneurial resources as they compete for a $10,000 prize. Launch dangles the carrot of a $100,000 prize as teams compete to develop the best startup business plan.