Start-Up Challenge finale set for April 21 at Penn State York

Students pitch product ideas in 'Shark Tank'-style setting
York Start-Up Challenge 2017

Erin Casey, partner and a trainer with Design Quake, York, Pennsylvania, measures the spaghetti and marshmallow tower Penn State York students Koven Leatherman and Athena Koufomihalis built as part of their Design Thinking Training workshop. Both Leatherman and Koufomihalis are participating in the Start-Up Challenge and are on the APP THIS team. The Start-Up Challenge is funded by a $25,000 grant from Invent Penn State, and the finale is set for Friday, April 21 at the campus.

Credit: Barbara Dennis

YORK, Pa. — Six teams of Penn State York students, who have been working on projects for months, will make their final pitches and presentations in a “Shark Tank”-style competition, at noon on Friday, April 21, in the Start-Up Challenge Finale. Teams will go head-to-head in the 90-minute competition in the Community Room of the Joe and Rosie Ruhl Student Community Center, and the event is free and open to the public. Only one team will be named The Graham Center Innovator. 

The Penn State York Start-Up Challenge is an undergraduate team competition, where teams take their ideas from the concept phase through a feasibility study and market analysis, to a business plan and prototypes.

The challenge is sponsored by The Graham Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Studies (The Graham Center) at Penn State York and was funded through an Invent Penn State grant from the University. These competitions are designed for undergraduate students across all programs at Penn State York, and any active Graham Center student. Student teams have faculty and corporate advisers. The winning teams will receive recognition and awards.

“With a generous grant from Invent Penn State, we recognized the unique learning experience this type of event would offer our students, said Jody Keller, executive-in-residence of The Graham Center. “Also, in partnership with the York business community and Penn State York faculty, students benefit from the access to mentors and experts in a variety of disciplines from the business, marketing, financial, technology and engineering sectors,” she said.

Eight idea summaries were accepted into the Start-Up Challenge in January, and students then had to follow a rigorous schedule to complete a business plan and a variety of other documents along the way. Part of the process also involved each team doing research on their project, talking with business professionals and meeting as a team on a regular basis.

“Students are able to apply and test their leadership and technical skills in a practical, real-life situation," said Keller. “Unlike a simulation, the Start-Up Challenge is an actual business launch experience,” she said.

Teams were also required to participate in a Design Thinking Training in February, where they learned to think creatively, develop prototypes, and discovered the importance of gathering feedback from consumers during every step of the design process.

Teams headed to the finale and their projects are:

APP THIS — This group is creating an app called WeKnow, which they hope will revolutionize the way students learn and work together. With this app, group communication can be more efficient and effective, and students will have the assistance they need from current classmates at their fingertips. WeKnow will offer tools to better learn material and easily communicate with classmates through a single app.

Creaventor — This team is working on two products called Chamrosh and Huma. Both are heated jackets that maintain a temperature set by the user through an app, with the use of embedded heating pads. Those who wear the jackets can also charge their cell phones and other electronics. Chamrosh is a casual jacket for everyday use, and Huma is a more formal overcoat.

Home Solutions — This team is leveraging the power of Near Field Communication technology to make using smart devices easier and more convenient. This product is designed to change the way users control and interact with smart home devices. With the push of a button, users can control all their devices such as Phillips Hue lights, Nest thermostats, security systems and door locks.

PSY1 — This team is working on an App that will help doctors and their patients share information. A doctor can send a request to the patient to download. The doctor will specify information that they want the patient to track over a period of time. This information will be used to make changes to that patient’s routine to help correct any issues they may have. The hope is that with the data the doctor collects from their patient, they may be able to prevent more serious issues from developing, help shorten patient recovery times and minimize mental stress that can come from lengthy patient recovery times.

Rose Gold — This team is creating an all-natural line of personal skin-care products including body butter, deodorant, lip oil and an exfoliating face mask. The mission of the team is to provide all-natural products that support a healthy and natural lifestyle.

Sharp Vision — This team is developing blue-light-filtering contact lenses.  This product is designed to help reduce the harmful effects of blue light emitted from everyday electronics and LED lights.

To view the Start-Up Challenge videos, visit

Keller hopes that as a result of the Start-Up Challenge, students will learn more about their own leadership capabilities, teamwork and the potential of their chosen fields of study. “They will form relationships and have contacts with individuals who can make a difference in both their personal and future professional lives,” Keller said.

The Graham Center at Penn State York was made possible by a generous gift from York business entrepreneur Donald Graham. The vision and purpose of The Graham Center is to develop students with entrepreneurial leadership skills, rather than graduates seeking to start new companies. The Graham Center works with students from a variety of academic disciplines to provide them with a set of practical tools that complement the quality education they are receiving at Penn State York. Students participate in a variety of activities, including mock interviews, résumé reviews, and professional presence and dining etiquette programs, networking events, leadership skills training, and extensive opportunities for internships. They are exposed to local and national leaders from a wide array of professions through The Graham Speakers Series, and are encouraged to demonstrate their networking skills during the Corporate Partner Dinner. Students also complete Graham Center curriculum requirements designed to familiarize them with concepts ranging from ethics to entrepreneurship. To learn more about the graham center visit

Invent Penn State is a Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success. Invent Penn State blends entrepreneurship-focused academic programs, business startup training and incubation, funding for commercialization, and University-community collaborations to facilitate the challenging process of turning research discoveries into valuable products and services that can benefit Pennsylvanians and humankind. Learn more at