The top winners of the Shark Tank Finale pictured with the judges.

Three winners share $10,000 prize in Shark Tank Finale

The student-run competition showcased the variety of startups being developed by founders within Rutgers.

The Road to Silicon V/alley Program and the student-run Rutgers Entrepreneurial Society recently hosted the Shark Tank Finale, a pitch deck competition uniting top student founders and investors within the Rutgers ecosystem.

The stakes were high as the student entrepreneurs showcased their innovative start-up businesses in an intense competition for a cash prize totaling $10,000. In the end, the top three founders were awarded a portion of the prize money.

Rutgers Business School student Alex Simeon won the first-place prize of $5,000 for MoneyUp, a platform with gamified tools to make banking, investing, budgeting and money management easy for college students and Gen Z. Simeon said the goal of MoneyUp is to make financial education simple and engaging so users can apply what they learn to improve their well-being.

The second-place prize of $3,000 went to Atharva Kulkarni for CarbonX, a startup that focuses on removing carbon dioxide from the central ventilation systems at schools, and a team of students – Claudia Santacruz, Brianna Lischy, Rut Mehta, Deshik Iyengar, and Oliver Kisza – won the third-place prize of $2,000 for SageTech, a startup that puts technology to use for education. SageTech is touted as the world’s first decentralized learning platform for hosting and sharing virtual reality educational content.

The entrepreneurial society teamed up with Road to Silicon V/Alley, a selective organization for aspiring entrepreneurs at Rutgers Business School, to host the Shark Tank Finale. While the Rutgers Entrepreneurial Society brought together student and alumni founders, the Road to Silicon V/Alley provided the prize money. 

Two Rutgers Business School students pose on grand staircase at 100 Rock Building.
Rutgers Business School seniors Katie Sidebotham and Varun Bharti.

The collaboration was led by two Rutgers Business School-New Brunswick seniors, Katie Sidebotham, president of the Road to Silicon Valley Program and Varun Bharti, president of the Rutgers Entrepreneurial Society. Three Rutgers Business School juniors – Jasmine Shamnani, Malay Patel and Soham Kulkarni – assisted with the collaboration.

“The success of this event only marks the beginning of the future collaborations between the Road to Silicon Valley and Rutgers Entrepreneurial Society,” said Bharti. 

The individuals who agreed to be judges (sharks) at the finale played a major role in the event’s success. The judges were both Rutgers alumni and some of the most successful proponents of tech entrepreneurship in New Jersey. Bharti said the composition of the judging panel was an important element of the competition. "The student alumni network is a crucial component of curating tech entrepreneurship within the university ecosystem," he said.

Here's a look at the judges:

Justin Murray is director of Partnerships at TechUnited:NJ, a non-profit that empowers the region’s entrepreneurs. He’s in charge of bringing in investors and speakers for TechUnited’s Propelify Conference and he has been committed to fostering entrepreneurship and technology growth in the New Jersey and New York City region.

A Rutgers University alumnus, Vince Smeraglia is executive director of Strategic Alliances and University Core Services at Rutgers University, where he fosters collaborative relationships with universities, foundations, and corporate partners in the biomedical field. 

Sho Islam is division Head of Life Sciences and Food Innovation in Middlesex County where he collaborates with partners and stakeholders to drive ecosystem development. With experience at state and industry organizations, including the New Jersey Department of State and Choose New Jersey, Sho holds degrees in Environmental Business Economics, Food and Business Economics, and Public Affairs from Rutgers University.

Zoya Lehrer has more than 20 years of experience in executive leadership roles within Digital Innovation, Digital Transformation, FinTech Partnership Enablement, Global Customer Success, and other verticals. Zoya recently founded a startup called Orgo, which aims to disrupt logistics in daily life. She holds a degree in Information Technology and Informatics from Rutgers University.

John Gorman brings over 30 years of insurtech experience, including leadership roles at Accenture and as a Co-Founder of Verisk Life Solutions. He played integral roles in the successful sale of FAST to Verisk for $194 million. Currently, He is an advisory board member for Road to Silicon Valley. He is an alumnus of the Rutgers MBA Program.

Jeff Frommer is an alumnus of Rutgers University. He led Adobe's Digital Publishing business to a $120M venture before co-founding MALKA, a creative studio and sports marketing firm. Jeff's leadership grew MALKA into a 200-employee powerhouse, which culminated in its $75 million acquisition from a public company where he served as chief content officer before transitioning to advisory roles. He currently shares his expertise with various companies and founders, including Rutgers Business School and its Road to Silicon V/alley Program. 

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