Empower 2023 Pitch Competition catch up

Written by
Mai Kasemsawade '26
Aug. 10, 2023

On April 26, six phenomenal female academic entrepreneurs put their pitch decks to test at the Empower 2023 Pitch Competition, which was held in person at the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth in front of a standing room only group of investors.  The program was hosted by Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, and led by Don Seitz.

Participants competed for over $135K of cash and in-kind prizes, with the first-place earning a $100K cash prize and a $10K bundle of in-kind legal and advisory services. The semi-finalists and finalists will also receive expert mentoring advice and the opportunity to meet with several VC firms. This year’s participants specialize in various fields, ranging from testing methods promoting healthcare accessibility to cost-effective data storage solutions. Meet the six presenters:

    •    Amogha Tadimety ‘14, Nanopath, Co-Founder & CEO
    •    Ariel Furst Seia Bio, Cook Career Development Professor of Chemical Engineering at MIT
    •    Somer Baburek Hera Biotech, CEO, Co-Founder
    •    Yidian Liu *21 PolyGone Systems, Co-founder
    •    Dana Biechele-Speziale ATOMICS, Chief Executive Officer
    •    Denise Koller (current Princeton graduate student) Sóliome, Co-Founder

Each participant was given 7 minutes to present their pitches, followed by a 6 minute session to answer questions from the judges. The judging panel featured top entrepreneurs from early stage firms to private equity. Meet the judges:

    •    Kammy Moalemzadeh Arcadia Investment Partners, Founder and Managing Partner
    •    Mark Jung '82, Independent Board Member and Advisor
    •    Natalie J Guo ’12 Thrive Capital, Investor
    •    Cris Paslar ESG Products, Mastercard, Executive Vice President

While the judges deliberated, Ellington West, co-Founder and CEO of Sonavi Labs and the winner of the Empower 2021 Pitch Competition gave an update on the progress she has made since winning. 

Hera Biotech, led by Somer Baburek, won the grand prize of $100k. Hera Biotech has a non-surgical diagnostic test for diagnosis and staging of endometriosis.  Seia Bio, which is developing a protective coating for microbes used to restore soil microbiomes, claimed the second prize of $25k, and PolyGone Systems, working on a biomimetic system to remove plastic from rivers, won the $10k 2nd runner up prize. All three startups also received legal and advisory services as well as mentoring and networking opportunities. The award ceremony was then followed by a networking reception, concluding the Empower 2023 Pitch Competition on a lively note.

This competition was a part of the Empower 2023 conference, celebrating women academic entrepreneurship and researchers aiming to commercialize university-developed intellectual property across various disciplines. The event ran from April 26-28th, featuring keynote speakers and workshop series on insightful entrepreneurship strategies. Sessions were recorded and are available to watch on the Whova conference platform. Empower aims to foster a supporting network of entrepreneurs to share resources and knowledge as well as to promote accessibility to entrepreneurship.

Empower 2023 Pitch Competition reception
Hera Biotech

Empower 2023 Pitch Competition check presented to Hera Biotech 

Empower is hosted by Princeton Entrepreneurship Council, part of the Office of the Dean for Research and a partner of Princeton Innovation. The event was generously sponsored by Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, Hamilton Brook Smith Reynolds, Chaac Ventures, and New Jersey Health Foundation Inc.