NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. – This July, five Iona College students embarked on a three-week long entrepreneurial journey in Turin, Italy, at the European Innovation Academy (EIA), the world's leading entrepreneurship summer program for students. Rising junior Maimouna Mbacke’20, a marketing major in the School of Business, contributed to a group which placed as a top team in a contest sponsored by the gathering and earned a year-long consultation from Pitch60, an organization which helps connect early-stage startups to a global hub of investors.
The European Innovation Academy partnered with professionals from Stanford University, UC Berkeley and Google to develop the program. The program was hosted at the Polytechnic University of Turin with over 300 participants, 30 keynote speakers, 45 mentors, and 62 interdisciplinary student-formed teams.
"EIA was truly a unique and challenging experience that mimicked the real process of developing a tech startup," said Iona student Marina Falisi ’18, ’19MBA. "It was valuable to hear startup owners talk about their personal journey and it was inspiring to be in the presence of so many passionate, driven, and hardworking young adults who believed in their solution to a problem that exists in society.”
Many participants arrived at EIA with business ideas and were determined to find the perfect team. Others had the opportunity to browse the other participants' ideas, ask questions, and find one which they were most passionate about. Every team was assigned a chief mentor who guided them in fully developing their business model. Each day, participants attended two-hour long keynotes from a variety of professionals who discussed topics ranging from business model creation, marketing strategy and intellectual property protection. Speakers included: PJ Leimgruber, co-founder at Neo-Reach and Entrepreneurship; Zaid Haque, senior program manager at Amazon; Teemu Arina, biohacker at Biohacker Centre; and On Lu, partner at Nixon Peabody.
By the end of the first week, teams hit the streets of Turin to gain customer feedback and validation. Many teams realized they needed to adjust their business ideas to fit the customer demand. Teams then presented their revised business models at the startup expo.
All teams completing marketing campaigns and strategies by the tenth day qualified for the product sprint and pitching carousel. The teams with Iona students all qualified and had the opportunity to devise a plan to create their product and pitch their ideas to investors and venture capitalists. The investor groups heard more than 60 pitches with 10 teams chosen to compete in Grand Pitches, the final pitching round, on the last day of the program.
Mbacke and her team were a finalist, with their idea Generation Access. The group pitched a mobile application that conducts a hair and skin analysis using questions and location. The app gives product suggestions and allows users to scan a product’s UPC to see if it is a match for them based on the analysis conducted. The team was awarded with a year’s worth of consultations with Pitch60.
“EIA was a phenomenal learning experience," said Mbacke. "Being surrounded by so much knowledge and passion truly taught me that nothing is impossible.”
“EIA was truly a unique and challenging experience that mimicked the real process of developing a tech startup," added Falisi. "It was valuable to hear startup owners talk about their personal journey in the startup world and it was inspiring to be in the presence of so many passionate, driven, and hardworking young adults who believed in their solution to a problem that exists in society."
IONA STUDENT PARTICIPANTS
Lisbeth Baez ’20
Marina Falisi ’18, ’19MBA
Tiara Griffith ’20
Joshua Gitter ’18, ’19MS
Maimouna Mbacke ’20
TEAM GENERATION ACCESS
Maimouna Mbacke ’20, Iona College, CEO and creator
Qi’Shaun Coyle, chief marketing officer, Grand Valley State University
Natasha Lalenya Whyte, medicine and research, Università degli Studi di Torino
Jenna Grannan, chief of design, Grand Valley State University
Simona Gazzera, chief of technology, Università degli Studi di Torino