Elon Innovation Challenge highlights student ventures, campus-wide collaboration of faculty and students

The challenge, which began in November with an idea pitch, culminated in April with three teams presenting ventures to a panel of judges.

Three interdisciplinary student teams presented their ventures during the Elon Innovation Challenge finale on April 26.

Sponsored by the Doherty Center for Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the competition was a cross-campus collaboration between Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Communications, Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, School of Health Sciences, School of Education, and School of Law.

Teams proposed their ideas for a startup or product at the challenge’s pitch event last November. Since then, teams worked with a faculty mentor to develop their venture as well as their entrepreneurial skill set. Team members also attended workshops offered by the Doherty Center on topics such as human/user-centric design, customer discovery and validation, strategic marketing and identifying venture value propositions, pitching a venture, building and maintaining a professional network, and presenting a startup.

“Seeing the student teams show such focus and passion and energy was deeply heartening,” said Professor of Chemistry Karl Sienerth, who mentored team Vidya and co-chaired the Innovation Challenge committee with Alyssa Martina, director of the Doherty Center. “Mentoring my own team has taught me a lot about how to bring science to market. It also taught me how much more there is to learn.”

“Having the chance to work with the Innovation Challenge committee, a group of people that truly represents Elon and offered a wide range of expertise, was enlightening,” he added.Elon is not a place of Ivory Towers, but we do all tend to become focused on our own areas – our schools, departments, and courses – and that makes it hard to have a chance to interact with folks across campus.” 

Each team consisted of students from different programs, bringing an interdisciplinary lens to the venture. “I think anyone with a creative background in the arts or design like myself should learn how to speak up, express the value of our skills, and use our creativity for innovative ventures,” said Sarah Donahue, team leader for Good Life Creative Company. “Participating in the Innovation Challenge was my chance to go out of my comfort zone, practice leadership skills, and learn about entrepreneurship and business. I feel very lucky to have had this opportunity to learn these skills through mentorship and collaboration with peers from different disciplines.”

Donahue, a graduate student in the School of Communication’s Interactive Media program, along with iMedia students Juwan Johnson and Trey Caldwell and computer science and mathematics double major Ryan Rudinger ’19, presented Good Life Creative Company, which focuses on creating digital content solutions for the education, health and non-profit sectors. The team highlighted its augmented reality app for language learning.

“The Elon Innovation Challenge gave me the opportunity to work alongside an amazing team of fellow students to further develop a venture I hope will make an impact in a community I care about,” said Caroline Enright, team leader for HiGenuises. “The Challenge empowers students to take an issue they are passionate about and gives them the tools and knowledge to do something about it.”

Enright’s team of Rafael Mueller ’20 (management), Amy Zheng ’20 (communication design), Valerie Pacheco ’21 (finance and international business) and Ansley Hamilton ’18 (media analytics) presented the Challenge’s winning venture, which aims to provide a reusable feminine hygiene kit for women in rural Uganda. “Our team will continue to develop our product and work alongside our mentors to see this venture help young women access the education they deserve because they no longer lack basic necessities,” Enright said about HiGenuises’ future. 

Team Vidya also plans to continue working on its venture following the Innovation Challenge. Co-founders Madeline Reynolds ’19 (strategic communications) and Sasha Kagan ’19 (sociology) along with Eleanor George (biochemistry) developed a wearable date rape drug detection device to change color upon contact with a drink containing a date rape drug. “Our plans for the next year are to test our charm’s color changing technology against real date rape drugs,” said team leader Reynolds. “We’re currently filing for a provisional patent and ideally will be filing for a real patent by next year.”

“Through the past two years, the Elon Innovation Challenge staff has invested both funds and time into our venture,” Reynolds added. “As someone who initially had no idea what a ‘pitch deck’ was, the help and advice of the entrepreneurship department when crafting my first pitch was crucial to our success in raising future capital. Without the presentation skills I’ve gained from this challenge, there is no way we would have raised the amount of money that we have achieved at this point.”



Caroline Enright ’20, team leader
Policy Studies

Rafael Mueller ’20

Amy Zheng ’20
Communication Design

Valerie Pacheco ’21
Finance & International Business

With support from:
Ansley Hamilton ’18

Media Analytics

Mentor: Elena Kennedy, assistant professor of entrepreneurship


Good Life Creative Company

Sarah Donahue, team leader  
Interactive Media graduate student

Ryan Rudinger ’19
Computer Science &

Juwan Johnson
Interactive Media graduate student

Trey Caldwell
Interactive Media graduate student

Mentor: Derek Lackaff, associate professor of communications


Madeline Reynolds ’19, team leader, co-founder
Strategic Communications

Sasha Kagan ’19, co-founder

Eleanor George ’21, student chemist

Mentor & Lead Chemist: Karl Sienerth, professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry

A panel of professionals and entrepreneurs judged the teams on the desirability, viability and feasibility of their ventures as well as their presentation skills. The winning team was awarded $1,000. The runner-up teams received $250 each.


  • Joe Battle, VP of business services, Carolina Small Business Development Fund
  • Tammy Cobb, assistant director, community partnerships, Kernodle Center for Service Learning and Community Engagement
  • Jason Cox, serial entrepreneur; founder, of Co|Operative
  • David Soper, head of Lincoln Financial Office of Innovation & Disruption; founder of LincolnLabs
  • Ryan Vet, serial entrepreneur; VP of marketing, Anutra Medical

Elon Innovation Challenge Committee

  • Karl Sienerth, co-chair, chemistry
  • Alyssa Martina, co-chair, Doherty Center
  • Scott Spurlock, computer science
  • Scott Wolter, engineering
  • Scott Morrison, education
  • Tony Weaver, communications
  • Jesica Gisclair, communications
  • Stephen Folger, physical therapy
  • Martin Kamela, physics
  • Sirena Hargrove-Leak, engineering
  • Elena Kennedy, business
  • Sean McMahon, business
  •  David McGraw, arts administration
  • Derek Lackaff, Interactive Media
  • John Flynn, Law
  • Daniel Reis, Maker Hub
  • Michael Spencer, Doherty Center
  • Nicole Filippo, business

“It was a pleasure working with Karl Sienerth as our co-chair and all of the talented faculty from across campus to bring the Elon Innovation Challenge to fruition,” said Martina, director of the Doherty Center. “Elon is a remarkable place in that it encourages our faculty to collaborate beyond the walls of their schools and departments. This collaboration was a unique and vibrant experience for the students and faculty alike.”