Brandeis Innovation

SparkTank 2021: Student Startups Tackle HealthTech, Consumer Products


The annual SparkTank competition held on February 7th was a celebration of some of the best startups developed by Brandeis students from across the globe and across disciplines. This year saw a heavy concentration of startups in the fields of healthtech and sustainable consumer goods, showcasing Brandeis’ strengths in the healthcare business sector, as well as Brandesian’s commitment to sustainability.

Among the teams pitching were travel apps, edtech tools, and more. MobileMemory, an AI platform designed to diagnose early Alzheimer’s disease was in the line-up, along with Pheora Rucci, an eco-friendly skincare line for women of color.

Preparation for SparkTank begins every year in September, when students bring their ideas to a networking event to share, connect across departments, and brainstorm. This year’s event was structured around an ideation session that walked participants through the steps of identifying a good business idea. Participants then could sign up for weekly training sessions on entrepreneurship, designed to teach them valuable business skills while preparing them for the competitive SparkTank pitch event each Spring semester. Those that feel ready to pitch submit their business plans, including a budget, in December. A panel of judges is matched to each team by the Brandeis Innovation staff, based on the judges’ relevant experience in a team’s industry. The judges select the finalists, who then prepare to compete at SparkTank. 

By February, finalist teams have been working on their ideas for months, researching the size of the market, identifying consumer needs, and in some cases, prototyping their solutions. Then the competition is on to see who will win funding. The teams get five minutes to pitch their ideas to an expert panel. Winners, selected by the panel, receive funding, mentorship, additional support, and, for one winning team, the opportunity to pitch to MassChallenge, one of the world’s leading incubator programs.

This year’s judges represented a range of expertise, well-matched to the themes of technology and the consumer market: Sarah Glatt, ‘03, founder of Paper Crane Associates, Sean Rush, former CEO of JA Worldwide, Phillipe Wells, founder of Prana Yoga and senior lecturer at Brandeis International Business School, and Elan Blutinger, P ‘09 and 10, Founder and CEO of AudioNow. Their willingness to share their expertise was pivotal to the success of the event.

This year’s winners will go on to build their startups with the support of Brandeis Innovation throughout the Spring. Representing a wide range of sectors, they are: 

  • Skillside, an online marketplace for local freelance tutors.
  • Tambu, an adjustable shoe that goes from high heels to flats
  • SnapCap, an easy-to-put-on swimcap for people with disabilities or those who just want a more comfortable swimcap experience.
  • PheoraRucci, the makeup company
  • RealLook, a digital platform for identifying consumers’ ideal clothing fit using a 3D model
  • JewBer, a nonprofit that delivers Kosher meals to frontline workers and isolated elders, while building intergenerational connections
  • MobileMemory, the AI platform for combating Alzheimer’s

In addition, one team showed such promise that they received a spot in the first pitch round for MassChallenge, enabling them to proceed to the second judging round and potentially a spot in the incubator program. Onye is an app developed by a team of African entrepreneurs Emmanuel Obasuyi, BA’ 12, MS (Heller) ‘15, Dolu Obatusin, Samuel Ugheighele, and Josephine Iyorein collaboration with CS graduate student Daniel Zhang. It aims to address health disparities in Africa by facilitating feedback between providers and patients. The goal of Onye is to strengthen the relationships patients have with their providers, leading to better health outcomes. The team will now prepare to pitch for a spot in MassChallenge, while also still participating in the Spring Spark program.

Over its many years, Spark has seen strong showings in greentech, fintech, edtech, and other sectors. The changing focus of each year’s Spark teams is testament to Brandesians’ ability to adapt to broad social trends, offering leadership, practical solutions, and creative vision wherever they see the chance to make a difference.