One email gave two guys a chance to pursue their dream of a music festival start-up. Now they’re helping college students realize their dreams, too, with a pitch competition they describe as a March Madness of college “Shark Tank” competitions — mixed with music.
RECESS began when co-founders Deuce Thevenow and Jack Shannon were Indiana University students. They were really into electronic dance music, and their dream was to host concerts on college campuses. They took a big step toward realizing that dream the day Thevenow, on a whim, emailed Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks and a judge on the ABC show “Shark Tank.”
To Thevenow’s surprise, Cuban responded, and became their first investor.
With Cuban’s backing, RECESS has been hosting concerts since 2010. Now they’re partners with Southwest Airlines, Fiverr, and more, and Thevenow says they’ve worked with just about every major dance music artist.
FROM MUSIC FESTIVAL TO MUSIC-AND-IDEAS FESTIVAL
Still, Thevenow says, they wanted to do something bigger. Specifically, they wanted to help college students turn their ideas into reality, just as Mark Cuban did for them. So in 2013, RECESS evolved from a music festival to a music-and-ideas festival, and a national pitch competition for college students was born.
There are three stages to the competition that span several months: campus qualifiers, regional semifinals, and then the final competition. The most recent round began in April and ended this month (June). RECESS travels to college campuses and holds small competitions where teams of students are able to pitch their business ideas to VCs and investors. Judges pick winners who advance to the regional semifinals, and three winners from each region go on to the final competition.
The semifinal and final competitions are held at concert venues, and after the pitch sessions, RECESS hosts a free concert. This year, 10 student teams were flown to Los Angeles on an all-expenses-paid trip to compete in the final.
“We don’t take anything, we don’t take any equity, we just wanted to develop a platform to help them,” Thevenow says. “We were in their shoes once and we got lucky. This is just our way to give back.”
THIS YEAR’S WINNING TEAM IS TRYING TO SOLVE A BIG PROBLEM
This year’s winning team is Xperii, a health-tech start-up founded by Evan Ehrenberg, an MIT PhD student, and Cynthia Chen, an undergraduate who is currently on leave from Brown University.
Ehrenberg and Chen collaborated on research for several years before they started Xperii together. One day, while working together at MIT, Ehrenberg went to check a flier he had posted, seeking subjects of a research study he was conducting. “(Cynthia) saw me checking my research fliers, and she asked what else we did to find people,” Ehrenberg says. “I said that was it, and she thought there must be a better way, like an AirBnB or an Uber for this stuff. The next day she sketched out the entire idea for Xperii.”
The problem they’re trying to solve is a big one. Each year, millions of people are needed to participate in scientific studies, Ehrenberg says, but it’s difficult for researchers and study participants to find each other. Eighty-six percent of clinical trials have to be extended if they can’t find participants fast enough, costing the U.S. clinical trial industry billions of dollars each year, and possibly delaying the development of life-saving treatments.
Xperii is an app that connects researchers and study participants quickly. People who want to be paid to participate can use the app to find nearby on-going studies that they qualify for. “We did some interviews and found that people and researchers were both really interested (in the app),” Ehrenberg says. “After that it was obvious. We had to make this.”
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