UPD studio teams make the leap to entrepreneurship

Two teams of students have been pitching projects born in last semester’s Networked Urbanism studio to forward-thinking municipalities and venture capitalists. Benjamin Scheerbarth and TJ McCourt (both MUP’14) and Scott Liang (MLA’14) were one of five teams picked to present at the urban design competition at this year’s Architecture Boston Conference. Their mobile app, Pixel, is a social network/mapping tool that allows users to register their subjective feelings of an urban space.

Anji Clubb (MUP’14) and her partner Khyati Saraf (MLA’14) were among 12 teams chosen to pitch their idea at the HBS’s Entrepreneur Conference pitch competition. Their time-management app, Aeon, combines a user’s calendar and to-do lists into a non-linear, integrated view.

Pixel is designed to layer subjective impressions from users with objective data like weather, transportation networks, and noise levels to give planners, designers, and policymakers a more nuanced view of what makes a “good” urban space. “Our presentation went great,” McCourt said. “We got a lot of attention and heard a lot of positive reinforcement and speculation about the future applications of our project.” McCourt said Pixel has drawn interest from the Mayor’s Office for New Urban Mechanics in Boston and Philadelphia, and the team is entering both the Harvard President’s Challenge and the GSD Dean’s Challenge this spring.

The focus of the Networked Urbanism studio was waste, and Clubb said that she and Saraf felt that wasted time would be an interesting pursuit. “Aeon’s design is backed by neuroscience which shows that to really be effective, we need to focus on one task at a time,” said Clubb. “Furthermore, to optimize our creative abilities and wellbeing, we need to allow for mental downtime throughout our day.” Aeon presents a user’s scheduled events and, throughout the day, suggests when to fit in to-do list items as well as important unscheduled tasks like exercise, meditation, and rest. At the HBS competition, teams had three minutes to present a pitch to a panel of three venture capitalists.

Although Aeon did not make it to the final round, Clubb said the competition was a great experience. “We honed our elevator pitch and played with selling our project to investors versus designers,” she said. She and Saraf are applying for space in the Harvard iLab this spring, and plan to enter other entrepreneur competitions, like MassChallenge.