PHILADELPHIA, MAY 3, 2022 – The University of Pennsylvania’s Venture Lab is pleased to announce the winner of the sixth annual Startup Challenge, sponsored by Eric Aroesty, C’92: ToxiSense, co-founded by a team of four University of Pennsylvania freshmen, Aravind Krishnan, C’25, W’25; Udit Garg, ENG’25; Andrew Diep-Tran, W’25; and Aarush Sahni, C’25. The Startup Challenge was held on April 29, 2022 at Tangen Hall, the University of Pennsylvania’s hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation.
ToxiSense aims to improve the endotoxin testing required for drinking water and biopharma products through genetically engineering plants with bioluminescent properties. Biopharmaceutical products and drinking water must be tested for endotoxins, the sickness-causing molecule from bacteria. The current method relies on expensive horseshoe crab blood and is environmentally damaging. ToxiSense genetically engineered the Arabidopsis plant to luminesce based on the endotoxin concentration applied to it, serving as a sustainable, cost-effective solution.
ToxiSense was selected from a field of eight finalist teams—including DeToXyFi, Groov, Impact Local, Miren, Nemu, Ossum Technologies, and Shinkei Systems Corp.—who advanced from 30 ventures during the semi-finals portion of the competition, which consisted of a day of virtual pitching and Q&A in front of alumni entrepreneur and investor panels. For the finals, teams pitched to a panel of alumni judges and in front of a live audience of nearly 200 attendees as they competed for over $150,000 in cash and prizes to launch their startups.
“The Startup Challenge is Venture Lab’s premier yearly event, showcasing Penn’s most promising teams of student entrepreneurs,” says Lori Rosenkopf, Vice Dean of Entrepreneurship and Simon and Midge Palley Professor at the Wharton School. “This year’s finalists included undergraduate and graduate students from across the University, and their products offered solutions for environmental, financial, health, and social challenges. These motivated teams capture the spirit of Penn entrepreneurship—innovative, interdisciplinary, inclusive—and we offer our congratulations and our optimistic wishes for their futures!”
For the first time in three years, the Startup Challenge was held in-person in Tangen Hall, the university’s newest hub for student entrepreneurship and innovation. The 68,000 sq. ft. facility is the largest hub of any kind on any college campus dedicated to student entrepreneurship and innovation.
“This was an opportunity to invite the larger entrepreneurial community into our new home at Tangen Hall. We had positive feedback from the teams, alumni judges and attendees in being able to gather together again and showcase our outstanding student ventures,” says Erin McGowan, Senior Associate Director, Venture Lab.
The Startup Challenge marks the end to another exciting year of entrepreneurship across the Penn community. Students engaged in entrepreneurial programming are founding, developing, and scaling companies utilizing the multitude of resources available within the Penn and Philadelphia ecosystems. Venture Lab is proud to continue to be a leader in entrepreneurship education.
The 2022 Startup Challenge winners are:
- Perlman Grand Prize: $50,000 + $10,000 in legal, accounting and strategy services to ToxiSense
- Runner-up: $15,000 + $10,000 in legal, accounting, and strategy services to DeToXyFi
- Innovation Award: $10,000 + $10,000 in legal, accounting, and strategy services to Shinkei Systems Corp.
- Launch Prize: $10,000 + $10,000 in legal, accounting, and strategy services to Groov
- Frederick H. Gloeckner Award for Best Undergraduate Team: $10,000 to ToxiSense
- Robert S. Blank New Venture Collaboration Award: $10,000 to ToxiSense
- Jacobson Social Impact Prize: $10,000 to DetoXyFi
- Ashton Family Award for Female Founders: $10,000 to Nemu
- AI for Business Award: $10,000 to Shinkei Systems Corp. and Pitch Prez
- Weiss Tech House Audience Choice Award: $10,000 to Ossum Technologies
Previous winners of the Startup Challenge include Coverforce, an online insurance platform developed for and by insurance agents, and Percepta, which creates ethical AI for unbiased shoplifting detection.
Startup Challenge Finals judges were:
- Bikram Bakshi, WG’05, Partner at Blu Ventures, formerly CEO of Optum Government (QSSI)
- Mona Bijoor, WG’05 Founder at Sol TV and JOOR, Partner at Kings Circle Capital, Best Selling Author of Startups and Downs
- Rob Goergen, WG’00, Founder and Chairman of G5 Capital
- Devo Harris, W’99, Founder of Adventr, Co-founder of G.O.O.D. Music, Grammy Award winner
Startup Challenge Sponsors:
- Perlman Grand Prize Sponsor: Ellen Hanson and Richard E. Perlman, W’68
- Sponsor of the Venture Lab Startup Challenge: Eric Aroesty, C’92
- In-kind Sponsors: Blank Rome LLP, Duane Morris LLP, KPMG, Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe
Notes on abbreviations:
- C-Penn College of Arts & Sciences student/alum (bachelor’s)
- ENG-Penn School of Engineering & Applied Science student/alum (bachelor’s)
- W-Wharton undergraduate student/alum
- WG-Wharton MBA student/alum
About Venture Lab
Venture Lab is the entrepreneurship center powered by the Wharton School that serves all University of Pennsylvania students and alumni, maximizing their ability to address important challenges through entrepreneurship and entrepreneurial thinking. Our students and alumni turn innovative concepts into scalable and sustainable businesses and bring entrepreneurial development to existing companies eager for change, through a disciplined approach that challenges concepts, focuses ideas, and provides the know-how to turn fledgling businesses into strong, enduring organizations. For more information, visit https://venturelab.upenn.edu.
About the Wharton School
Founded in 1881 as the world’s first collegiate business school, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania is shaping the future of business by incubating ideas, driving insights, and creating leaders who change the world. With a faculty of more than 235 renowned professors, Wharton has 5,000 undergraduate, MBA, executive MBA and doctoral students. Each year 13,000 professionals from around the world advance their careers through Wharton Executive Education’s individual, company-customized, and online programs. More than 100,000 Wharton alumni form a powerful global network of leaders who transform business every day. For more information, visit www.wharton.upenn.edu.