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Virtual 2021 Brown Venture Prize awards $50,000 total to three start-up teams

Winning teams focused on drug redistribution, podcasting, educational disparities

The winners of the 2021 Brown Venture Prize were announced following a virtual finalist pitch night on March 25. 

The BVP, which is a competition organized by the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship, is designed to provide resources that assist the growth of ventures led by Brown students, said Executive Director of the Nelson Center for Entrepreneurship Danny Warshay ’87. 

The winners of the BVP received prize money: $25,000 for first place, $15,000 for second place and $10,000 for third. The funding for this year’s BVP came from donations by Richard Katzman ’78 P’14 and Jane Dray Katzman ’81 P’14. The winners also receive mentorship and networking opportunities, Warshay said. 

A diverse group of alumni judges selected eight finalists from the 31 submissions, Warshay said. The final three winners were then selected based on criteria that included the problem they identified, the solution they derived and their potential to create “impact at scale,” he added. 

As a result of the social gathering restrictions of the pandemic, this year’s finalist pitch night was virtual. But it was the Nelson Center’s “biggest event ever,” with over 500 attendees registering, Warshay said. 

The Herald spoke with the three 2021 winning teams about their venture projects. 

MediCircle: Pharmaceutical redistribution

Jack Schaeffer ’22 and Eliza Sternlicht ’22 placed first for their startup MediCircle, an organization seeking to redistribute chemotherapeutics that would otherwise have been wasted. “We take unused oral cancer medication with unit-dose tamper-proof packaging … and redistribute it to financially burdened people,” said Schaeffer. 

The inspiration to create this startup came from alarming statistics which showed that “41 percent of cancer patients have unfinished prescriptions containing leftover medication,” Schaeffer said, adding that “cancer (treatment) costs amount to 70 percent of the average American patient's monthly income.” 

The students hope that MediCircle would help fill in that gap by collecting unused, leftover medication from long-term care facilities and pharmacies, Sternlicht said. The donated medications would then be inspected by pharmacists and sent to charitable clinics so that individuals can receive free oral cancer treatment, she added. 

The MediCircle team will use the prize money to help launch their pilot program in New Jersey later this year. Their long-term goal is to expand to other speciality medications and open redistribution across the nation, Sternlicht said. 

Castyr: A new podcasting platform 

Caitlin Pintavorn ’21 and Aric Zhuang ’21 placed second for their startup Castyr, which is a social podcasting platform. “It’s like Tiktok and Goodreads had a baby,” said Pintavorn.

They were inspired by an “uptick in amateur podcasts,” Pintavorn said. Many podcasters had trouble getting listeners on big platforms like Apple Music and Spotify, so Castyr was created to allow for broader and more active podcast engagement, she added. The app also has a lot of other features, giving users the ability to snip audio and like, comment and share podcasts. 

With the award money, they plan to continue getting user feedback from their beta testers with a full-scale public launch planned for early May, Pintavorn said. 

EmpowerU: Technology to address educational disparities

Elvia Perez ’22 placed third for her EmpowerU startup, focused on providing high school students access to college and addressing disparities in education. 

“The EmpowerU app does this in three ways,” Perez said. Better access to education is provided by connecting students to resources in the form of internships, scholarships and summer programs, cultivating supportive communities of students across the country and incentivizing students through points, awards and badges, she added. 

As a first-generation, low-income student, Perez said she has experienced educational disparities herself. “I got lucky, but students shouldn’t have to be lucky to go to college. All students deserve access to quality higher education.”

Perez has been piloting the EmpowerU application in several high schools in Providence and plans to use the BVP funding to develop a fully functional version by fall 2021.



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