This year’s finalists tackled firefighter cancer, frontline medical devices, maternal nutrition, global healthcare access, and more.

Every year, Venture Lab’s Startup Challenge draws the very best Penn student entrepreneurs to compete for cash awards. The competition culminates in the Startup Showcase, where eight finalist teams pitch to a live audience and alumni judges.

This year’s virtual Startup Challenge featured 30 companies with students across six Schools at Penn. Here are the stories of four finalists who shared what inspired them to launch their own businesses.

RinSalt team (left) and Lumify team (right).


TEAM: Isaac Kalapos, EAS’21; Kevin Leeb, EAS’21; Cristian Constantin, EAS’21, GEng’21

Kevin, a first-generation college student, was inspired by his experience as a volunteer firefighter to find ways to protect firefighters inside burning buildings and increase efficiency in call responses. Then, he recalled a key issue that had been frequently brought up in his firehouse: over 50 percent of firefighters contract cancer in their lifetime. One major reason, Kevin found, is because carcinogenic molecules attach to firefighter gear and get absorbed through the skin. Manual cleaning procedures exist, but they are rarely used.

RinSalt is an automated on-scene decontamination system for firefighters that provides an effective and consistent decontamination process to combat firefighter cancer. Its ease of use means it could be adopted in firehouses throughout the country.

Lumify Care

TEAM: Anthony Scarpone-Lambert, Nu’21, Gr’24; Jennifferre Mancillas

During his time as a nursing student, Anthony became frustrated with how clinical environments were not conducive to comfortable patient experiences. He and his team interviewed over 250 nurses and found that 87 percent struggle to see while providing care to resting patients, leading them to utilize intrusive overhead room lighting that disrupts patient sleep on average nine times per night.

Lumify Care is a nurse-led company that supports frontline healthcare workers with the tools and resources needed to optimize patients’ experiences. Its flagship product is the uNight Light, a wearable LED light allowing health care workers to illuminate their workspace while decreasing patient sleep disturbances on an average of 70 percent. uNight Light is the first-ever wearable LED light designed for nurses, by nurses. It is attachable to scrubs and hands-free, allowing frontline healthcare workers to focus on providing quality patient care while minimizing sleep disturbances.

The founders of Nouri (top) and Welltrip (bottom).


TEAM: Irene Liu, WG’22; Jennifer Doro

Irene had always been interested in preventive health through nutrition, but began to focus on maternal nutrition when her aunt had a baby last summer. Irene’s mom was sending her aunt daily Traditional Chinese Medicine postpartum meals — standard care in Eastern Asia. Irene began to realize the discrepancy in maternal care in the U.S. Many women in the U.S. power through IVF (in vitro fertilization), various pregnancy symptoms, and postpartum sleeplessness and anxiety. Meanwhile, ancient cultures have long relied on therapeutic food rituals to meet nutritional needs and manage such symptoms.

Nouri bridges this gap with a stage-specific meal program to help expecting mothers provide the best for the baby and for themselves with optimized nutrition, utilizing proven Ancient Eastern therapeutic ingredients. Meals include plant-based dishes to improve fertility, soupy ginger porridges to alleviate nausea in T1, and braised meats and broths to replenish iron and collagen in postpartum.


TEAM: Ike Okonkwo, G’22, WG’22; Patrick Prommel, G’22, WG’22

Both Ike and Patrick share positive experiences with healthcare abroad, in contrast to their experiences in the U.S. Patrick’s family returns to Bolivia for dental procedures when they can because it costs less, even with insurance. Ike, who had worked in the medical travel industry in Colombia prior to coming to Wharton, was familiar with the systemic pain points.

They came together to found Welltrip, a global healthcare services marketplace that lets customers search through verified and peer-reviewed doctors abroad and book medical appointments at one-half the U.S. price or less. The current medical travel process often involves asking questions and obtaining referrals through anonymous Reddit message boards or through word-of-mouth referrals from friends and family. Welltrip’s objective is to bring trust and transparency to the process, including helping patients connect with doctors and facilitate their time abroad.

 — Athena Panton and Gloria Yuen

Posted: May 7, 2021

Related Content

Read More Stories