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CS Student Selected as One of Five Finalists Chosen to Compete in Blackstone LaunchPad Pitch Competition @ Startup Grind

Five student entrepreneurial teams have been selected to pitch live for a total of over $50,000 in cash and in-kind prizes at the upcoming Blackstone LaunchPad Pitch Competition. The competition will be held in Silicon Valley on April 12th, on the main stage of the Startup Grind Global Conference, a convening of leaders in technology and big brands at the forefront of innovation.

The finalists have been selected from over 130 applications. Their teams attend five different schools across the United States and their ventures vary in industry, size, and geographical focus.

The all-woman panel of judges will include: Kelly Burton, Executive Director at Black Innovation Alliance, Kelsey Davis, Founder & CEO of CLLCTVE and Syracuse LaunchPad Alum, Christine Feng, Senior Managing Director at Blackstone, and Devin Glenn, Managing Director, Global Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion at Blackstone. They will evaluate the finalists on the strength of the presentation, the viability of the idea, and the venture’s existing traction. Winners will be announced on Wednesday, April 13th on the Startup Grind Global Conference main stage and livestream.

Meet The Finalists

Bonsai, Shashank Kumar, UT Dallas

Bonsai is seeking to revolutionize the world of customer engagement through an AI-tool that automates and assists customer support teams. Customer service requests often take longer than is necessary because the agent doesn’t know the answer — Shashank estimates that 42% of employee time is wasted trying to access the right information. Bonsai seeks to elevate customer service systems by resolving tickets faster using AI-systems that can search a company’s database and find the right answer, reducing a 20-minute ticket to 2-minutes. The company has secured partners with several CRM companies, onboarded 15 paying customers, and raised $200K in pre-seed financing.

NuLife Kicks, Akeem Anifowoshe and Marquee Anifowoshe, College of Southern Nevada

NuLife Kicks hopes to pioneer the sneaker restoration trade. With the sneaker industry trending to reach $126B by 2026, according to Akeem and Marquee’s estimates, sneakers are on the rise — but sneaker-care solutions have not grown to meet the demand. Sneakers are expensive, and traditional cobblers struggle to adapt their tools and methods to care for modern sneakers. NuShoe Elements, a line of sneaker care products developed by Akeem, includes solutions and tools designed to fit sneaker-specific materials and surfaces. In addition to care products, NuLife Kicks has initiated a business model to help develop and train other entrepreneurs in sneaker-care techniques.

Mindsets & Milestones, Diondraya Taylor, UCLA

Mindsets & Milestones is using entrepreneurship to help equip the next generation of young women with the skills and self-confidence to succeed in reaching their goals. Diondraya estimates that 30% of high school girls with a 4.0 GPA still don’t believe they’re smart enough to achieve their dream career, a problem that is less about education and skills and more about self-perception. Her company creates entrepreneurial learning curricula, teacher guides, and courses, so that students can learn to bring their ideas to life.

SPORA, Andrea Paz Lacavex, UC Santa Cruz

SPORA, or “Sociology, Planning, and Optimal Restoration of Algae,” is producing Green Gravel in hopes of making the reforestation of kelp forest ecosystems more accessible and scalable. Kelp forest ecosystems are disappearing from oceans around the world, putting pressure on fishing communities that rely on the algae habitats. SPORA’s Green Gravel is made by injecting microscopic kelp spores into gravel. Once the algae are securely attached to and growing in the rocks, the company gives the Green Gravel to fishing communities to throw into the ocean and become the source of a new kelp forests. Because Green Gravel is relatively inexpensive and does not require highly trained workers, SPORA hopes it can be a scalable, accessible solution for communities to jumpstart kelp reforestation.

StaffOnTap, Kayla Foley, Cornell

StaffOnTap wants to make a difference for seniors, nurses, and nursing homes by connecting understaffed nursing homes and temporary nurses at an affordable price. There’s a national shortage of nurses working in nursing homes, and Kayla has observed through her family’s business in nursing homes that nurses are interested in making extra money at nursing homes through flexible shifts. Through StaffOnTap, nurses with full-time and part-time jobs can post their availability for additional shifts on the platform for nursing homes to book, for a flat $30 fee. So far, StaffOnTap has onboarded 64 nursing professionals and 22 nursing homes, with an additional 60 nursing homes ready to onboard.

About Blackstone LaunchPad

The Blackstone LaunchPad network makes entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial skills accessible and relevant for all college students to help them build thriving companies and careers. We work with higher-ed institutions to deliver proven startup resources, facilitate access to a global network of mentors and advisors, and offer unique virtual and physical convening opportunities so thousands of diverse college students can go further, faster. Students learn by doing, gaining knowledge and critical skills to help them succeed as a founder or contributor to the innovation economy. LaunchPad’s ever-expanding network encompasses campuses with predominantly underrepresented populations. Learn more: www.blackstonelaunchpad.org.


ABOUT THE UT DALLAS COMPUTER SCIENCE DEPARTMENT

The UT Dallas Computer Science program is one of the largest Computer Science departments in the United States with over 4,000 bachelors-degree students, more than 1,010 master’s students, 140 Ph.D. students,  52 tenure-track faculty members, and 42 full-time senior lecturers, as of Fall 2021. With the University of Texas at Dallas’ unique history of starting as a graduate institution first, the CS Department is built on a legacy of valuing innovative research and providing advanced training for software engineers and computer scientists.

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