Startup Incubator Class Pitches Ideas to Middletown Community

start up

The members of Wesleyan’s Startup Incubator stand together on pitch night, held in downtown Middletown on the second floor of Main Street Market. From left to right, beginning with the front row: Tommy Doyle ’21 and Bobby Iwashima ’22. Along the wall: Itzel Valdez ’23, Daniel Banks ’22, Lucas Pabarcius ’22, Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, MA ’11, Shane Chase, program director at reSET (an affiliated organization), Nigel Hayes ’23, Ona Hauert ’20, Will Huestis ’22, Zachary Zavalick ’20, and Nolan Collins ’23 (missing from photo: Beckett Azevedo ’21). (Photo by Dennis Hohne)

Eleven students from CSPL 239, Startup Incubator: The Art and Science of Launching Your Idea, took turns standing before an audience of their peers and members of Middletown’s Chamber of Commerce on the second floor of Main Street Market. Each offered a polished presentation detailing the need for their proposed startup, their mission, target market, and success indicators for the business, nonprofit, or community-based program they imagine. The evening was hosted through Collision-CT and the Middletown Entrepreneurs Workspace Plus (MEWS+). The course was made possible by CTNext and the Newman’s Own Foundation.

Taught this year by Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, MA ’11, the course was initially developed in 2018 by Makaela Kingsley ’98, director of the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, in collaboration with reSET, the Hartford-based social enterprise trust.

Kingsley emphasizes that the course is not just a business incubator. While some students will use it to develop products or services, Kingsley said, “I think of it as ‘next-gen project-based learning’: it’s about translating theory to practice.

Daniel Banks '22

Daniel Banks ’22 presents his startup, GamePoint.

“These students are learning the habits and practices of taking an idea and making it real,” she said. “Those are mindsets they’re going to use over and over again. It’s the mindset integral to interdisciplinary thinking, to exploring the ways one’s major can inform what one does after Wesleyan.”

Ostfeld, the entrepreneur-in-residence at the Patricelli Center this semester, concurs. After her first year at Wesleyan, she spent the summer working on an organic farm near her home. Now, after a PhD in land economy at the University of Cambridge as a Cambridge Trust Scholar, she is getting ready to launch her own startup, Healthy Planeat.

“Launching a startup is so different from getting a grade when you take a test or write a paper,” she explained. “A business can grow in so many different ways. So many potential processes could or could not lead to ultimate success. The uncertainty can be challenging for students. And sometimes a concept might not work out, but then it opens up a new opportunity. It’s a very different skillset from what they’ve learned in more structured academic environments.”

Additionally, community involvement is key to the process. “One of the major goals of the course was to create an environment where students were speaking with experts to learn more about the topics that they were interested in pursuing for their startups,” Ostfeld said, who noted that several mentorship days and outside speakers were important assets through the semester. “It was a collaborative effort with Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, reSET, and Wesleyan.

“We needed these partners: you can’t just design a business in a vacuum. You need to get out of the ivory tower and talk to people and try things and get involved with the community.”

Voting was just for fun and no official prizes were awarded at the event. The projects that received the most votes were GamePoint by Daniel Banks ’22 and Maddie Clark ’22; Spark by Itzel Valdez ’23, and 3. ONA by Ona Hauert ’20. To see more about the presentation and pitches, click here.

Photos below by Nick Sng ’23.

ostfeld and community leader talk by podium

Visiting Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Rosemary Ostfeld ’10, MA ’11, who taught Wesleyan’s startup incubator course, and Shane Chase, program director at reSET, a social entrepreneurial trust, welcomed the community members and students for the startup pitch competition held at Main Street Market on Dec. 3, 2019. At the conclusion of the event, Ostfeld noted: “I think that everybody felt invested in the success of all their peers because they’d been sharing the ride with them throughout the whole semester.”

Ona, in front of a slide illustrating clothing, discusses the clothes she designs

Ona Hauert ’20 pitched ONA: “Individually created one of a kind, wearable art. Each up-cycled and/or vintage garment is uniquely designed and painted by hand.”

Beckett discusses "Screens Reseen" at the podium.

Beckett Azevedo ’21 discusses The Screen Reseen, which he explains is “an hour-long workshop that creates a dialogue around the ever-increasing prevalence of screens in our lives.”

Zachary describes his plan for Denali Learning.

Zachary Zavalick ’20 presented Denali Learning, “a website that provides international students coming to the United States a convenient and effective crash-course on the American education system and American culture.”

Will describes Sustainable Surfing Products, wearing brightly colored surfing garb.

Will Huestis ’22 describes Sustainable Surfing Products as “a one-stop shopping website for all environmentally conscious surf-related products.”

Nigel discusses Time:Line

Nigel Hayes ’23 discusses TimeLine, “a software development company making the in-store buying process efficient everywhere, anytime for the consumer and seller.”

Nolan stands in front of the screen with his logo for Safe Ride

The tagline for Nolan Collins’s ’23 SafeRide is: “Don’t Worry; We Got You Both.” A ride-sharing app, “it will send not one, but two cars to pick you up; one to drive you home, and one to drive your car.”

Thomas pitches RBX Toys

Tommy Doyle ’21 describes RBXToys as “a website that allows users to sign up, complete offers, and redeem the points they receive for prizes like toys and gift cards.”

Bobby stands in the front of the room to talk about Invigor

Bobby Iwashima’s ’22 Reimagine, Chicago “is designed to help local businesses in low-income parts of Chicago” with grants and funds to “expand and grow the local infrastructure.”

Lucas discusses his College Accountability League

Lucas Pabarcius ’22 pitched the College Accountability League as an organization that “aims to resolve disconnects between student interests and college practice through accountability enhancing metrics and equitable, targeted action.”

Itzel Valdez talks about her plan for S.P.A.R.K. fitness.

Itzel Valdez ’23 envisions S.P.A.R.K. Fitness as “an enterprise aimed to enhance low income and marginalized communities’ fitness experiences, by providing services such as child care, private rooms, affordable memberships, and much more.”