Tech Week ends, but its best ideas have a bright future

Joseph Quan (left) and Nikhil Srivastava took first place in the Penn Wharton Startup Showcase with Twine, their algorithmic solution for keeping employees engaged by moving them into more fulfilling new jobs.

Many innovators presented, several won awards, and the very best concepts will become reality after the spring surge of entrepreneurial pitches and showcases during Tech Week Philly.

Coming to a close Friday night with a big bash at the Pennovation Center, this year’s parade of bright ideas has put a focus on medical tools, data crunching, augmented reality, drones, online shopping, and shared-economy solutions. Clearly, the winners showed the most potential, but there were clever conceptions from runners-up, as well.

At the Penn-community-focused AppItUP Challenge Demo Day that unofficially opened Tech Week, participants found a good answer to the question “What’s AR (augmented reality) good for?” Saving lives. One of the event’s two winners, Immerge Labs’ Marion Leary, imagined medical professionals using AR glasses, such as the Microsoft HoloLens, in conjunction with a sensor-equipped test dummy that simulates cardiac arrest. As the user leans in and applies CPR, superimposed computer graphics point to the best places on the dummy to place hands and helps determine the consequences, showing increased or decreased blood flow and other telltale signs.

There was no arguing about the other Demo Day winner of a $50,000 investment from Ben Franklin Technology Partners. Doctigo, which was presented by grad students Liam Foster and Charles Hardwick, uses an Uber-like strategy to a major staffing problem at hospitals: resident doctors who call in sick. The program keeps track of off-duty staffers and hails them to fill in. The plan would replace the current hospital solution — calling an external agency that provides nonaligned docs at exorbitant fees — and should be well-received by “will-work-for-overtime” residents who are “often saddled with $250,000 of student debt,” said Hardwick.

Not an AppItUp winner, but appealing, was Kaan Pinar’s Hoverport, which proposes flying small drones around every nook and cranny of a stadium, airport, or outdoor public space to test the reception of mobile-phone signals and WiFi — doing the dead-zone spotting in a fraction of the time expended with a manual survey.

Work-study courses, with potential big paydays, are now driving student entrepreneurship and enrollments at business schools, instead of abstract, theoretical academic traditions, like the Wharton Business Plan competition, which have become passe. So acknowledged Wharton School Dean Geoffrey Garrett at the inaugural award ceremony for that competition’s successor, the Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship Startup Showcase, which no longer is the exclusive domain of Wharton students.

Another surprise at the showcase was the seasoning of some participants — such as first-place winner Twine’s codeveloper Joseph Quan, a former management consultant and college lecturer whose product’s mission is employee retention. Twine uses algorithms to find and match workers with bigger opportunities before they fly the coop.

Startup Innovation Award codeveloper Chris Molaro is an Iraq War veteran  whose NeuroFlow digital-health solution deploys real-time biometric data to test and measure stress of people stymied by mental-health instabilities.

Also scoring well were second place RightAir — a battery powered, chest-pumping vest that relieves the shortness of breath caused by COPD (emphysema) and third-place eco-friendly City Sense, a big-data analyzer which derives where unmetered municipal water is disappearing.   

Winner of a People’s Choice award, the Airbnb-ish Splaced aims to rent out restaurant tables during off hours as affordable meeting spaces. Also notable was the snappy branding and attitude of Harper Wilde, an online bra shopping experience created by graduating Jenna Kerner and Jane Fisher. They hope to mimic the success of the Warby Parker eyeglass company, also spawned at Wharton.

Words mattered at the Out to Launch show-and-tell at the new Museum of the American Revolution. Boost Linguistics showed Boost Editor, an artificial-intelligence tool that analyzes the power of the language used in a marketing pitch and offers instant alterations to increase the effectiveness and sell-through factor. The motto: "The customer’s perception is your reality."

Also intriguing was Tiffanie Stanard’s socially responsible research tool Stimulus, a search engine to help minorities and women find grants and sponsorship.

And expanding its mission, TicketLeap debuted a second platform called Port that encourages clients to sell more than tickets, like memberships and goods and services.

Offering exposure to more than 60 young companies, the Philly Startup Leaders Entrepreneur Expo ran the gamut from knowledge management and eCommerce software to consumer products like Roundtrip, an Uber-like system for medical appointments; the Wilmington-based Carvertise, which turns your vehicle into a moving billboard; and the 24-hour snacks and beer delivery service gopuff.com, which has already expanded from its Philadelphia base to 17 cities in just 3½ years.

Also shown was the brand-new earphone maker Eaos with a locally designed product specially targeted to the motorcycle-riding set. Coming this summer, its low-profile Bluetooth-enabled Slimbuds will fit under any helmet and feature a double pickup "Chin-Mic" — one microphone to make calls and talk with other riders wearing Slimbuds, the other automatically muting your music when it senses horns and sirens.

IQinetics’ Matt Piccoli and Jon Broone showed off a years-in-the-making micro motor that will help drone, robot, and 3D-printer-makers by offering a level of precision and fine control not seen in run-of-the-mill brushless DC motors.

After just three months, the robotic process automation developer Canary Compliance has already signed up 500 gas stations for its automated monitoring system. It’s a wireless networked rig that tracks a gas station’s underground tank inventory, senses leaks, and prevents spills which saves on cleanup costs and EPA fines.

Launching just in time for the new school year, TriviaNote will use machine learning to automatically create study tools, such as flashcards and quizzes, appropriate to the topics and terms entered by students. It will also offer motivational challenges to do online with fellow students. Some content will be gratis in a freemium model that charges for extras.