New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

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New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

NYU startup founders take their concepts to the next level

Startups at NYU won $225,000 in seed funding at this year’s Entrepreneurs Challenge.
(Courtesy of Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship)

Launching a startup is not for the faint of heart — it’s a high-stakes task that many might deem borderline insane. Startup founders are a special breed of dreamers: bold, relentless and a little crazy. They dive headfirst into fiercely competitive markets with nothing but an idea and a nonstop drive to disrupt the status quo. The odds are daunting; 65% of startups fail in their first decade, and the journey is riddled with financial peril, sleepless nights and constant uncertainty. But, it’s this very challenge — the thrill of turning a fledgling concept into a thriving business against all odds — that attracts these modern-day adventurers to the entrepreneurial arena.

The Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship aims to mitigate some of these risks, providing NYU startups with boot camps, financial modeling and concept development. On April 26, the Berkley Center hosted its 25th annual Entrepreneurs Challenge, a competition and accelerator program. This year, the competition saw 11 promising startups consisting of NYU students and alumni, vying for the top spot across three categories. Each winning team was awarded $75,000 in seed funding through a KISS agreement — a “Keep It Simple Securities” that acts as a convertible note between an investor and a company — courtesy of the Rennert Family Foundation’s generous support.

Taking place in Tisch Hall, the event attracted members of the NYU community and beyond who wanted to witness pitches and live feedback from judges. At the award ceremony, anticipation filled the air as competitors gathered for three distinct contests: the New Venture, Technology Venture, and Healthcare & Biomedical competitions. Each category showcased innovative technology, reflecting the spirited competition and incredible potential of NYU’s brightest minds.

Winners of the 2024 NYU Entrepreneurs Challenge

In the New Venture competition, Jivika emerged as a standout, winning the top prize with its original approach to combating burnout in healthcare through “micro-habit” training for hospital staff. After quitting a comfy job on Wall Street, Silver alum Ayman Mukerji founded Jivika in hopes of treating the widespread issue. Mukerji’s willpower and dedication have been the driving force behind the company’s growth and victory in the completion. Jivika has made significant progress in addressing health care worker burnout. The company’s two-minute wellness habits, backed by neuroscience, demonstrated a remarkable 63% reduction in fatigue during a three-month trial at Cleveland Clinic.

“Running a startup has its ups and downs,” Mukerji said. “This was a celebratory up, The judges were prominent venture capitalists, and the competition was stiff. So, it definitely feels like we are doing something right.” 

She also credited much of her success to the support from the Berkley Center, particularly Cynthia Franklin, the center’s director of entrepreneurship, whom Mukerji considers a role model.

Looking ahead, Jivika aims to become the ultimate wellness resource for hospitals globally. 

Woman holding up a large prize check for $75,000 from the Entrepreneur’s Challenge.
Ayman Mukerji, Silver School of Social Work M.S. ’20 (Courtesy of Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship)

In the Technology Venture competition, UniqLearn stood out with its personalized learning platform for K-12 students. The service is designed to increase student engagement, providing custom content based on their curriculum and interests using artificial intelligence.

Gallatin junior Aidan McDowell, the founder of UniqLearn, cites his early passion for therapy and human interaction as the motivation for the startup. Along with his co-founder, Tandon sophomore Daniel Kenigsberg, McDowell navigated the challenges of the competition to a satisfying victory. They impressed judges with their quick answers and charismatic demeanors. While all the other startups played flashy introductions for their final pitches, Kenigsberg and McDowell simply presented a video of themselves recorded in front of a laptop in a lecture hall.

“Our initial reaction to winning was relief after a long time of refining and practicing our pitch over and over again and having all of that hard work finally pay off,” McDowell shared. “Afterwards, we said to each other ‘well, still gotta wake up tomorrow and do the same thing.” 

UniqLearn plans to use the money to launch a marketing campaign.

Two men holding up a large prize check for $75,000 from the Entrepreneur’s Challenge.
Aidan McDowell, Gallatin School of Individualized Study B.A. ’24 and Daniel Kenigsberg, Tandon School of Engineering B.S. ’25 (Courtesy of Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship)

In the Healthcare & Biomedical Venture competition, CaroRhythm was recognized for its non-invasive stroke prevention technology, which offers early detection of problems with blood flow and oxygen flow and improved management of symptoms.

The startup plans to use its winnings for marketing, website development and legal expenses as it prepares for Food and Drug Administration submissions and seeks further funding. Lokesh Sharma, the co-founder of CaroRhythm humorously suggested buying a Tesla with the prize money.

“We’re still on the path to incorporating in the next few weeks” Sharma said. Co-founder Nisha Maheshwari stated, “A lot of the money will go towards legal help. We are planning to do an FDA pre-submission and SBIR grant.”

Since the award is in the form of a KISS agreement, the Berkley Center will take equity once CaroRhythm finishes its first round of funding.

A man and woman holding up a large prize check for $75,000 from the Entrepreneur’s Challenge.
Lokesh Sharma, Tandon School of Engineering M.S. ’24, and Nisha Maheshwari, Tandon School of Engineering Ph.D. ’25 (Courtesy of Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship)

Contact Matt Petres at [email protected]

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About the Contributor
Matt Petres
Matt Petres, Photo Editor
Matt Petres is a first-year studying Economics. He is from Chicago, Illinois and likes to bike and kayak. You can contact him on Instagram @matt.petres

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