1step2life Selected from Eight Finalists at LaunchU Final Pitch


Photo Courtesy of Bara Watts

Professor Nancy Darling and her team of students won last weekend’s LaunchU competition for their venture 1Step2Life, a pain management company.

LaunchU, a competition for Oberlin College students, faculty, staff, and alumni to pitch entrepreneurial ventures — selected its victor last Friday. Professor and Chair of Psychology Nancy Darling and her student team took home first place and $20,000 in funding for their venture 1step2life, an app to support adolescents living with chronic pain. This is the first time a team led by a faculty member has won the competition.

The LaunchU funds will be used to help bring 1step2life to market through a clinical trial at the Cleveland Clinic and Connecticut Children’s Hospital to test the education materials and other components of the app. The trial is set to begin this fall.

In the Final Pitch Competition, three ventures were selected to receive funding. Second place and $15,000 went to Alex Taveres, OC ’11, for his venture The Read Read, a technology meant to assist children in learning how to read. Jonathan Kaufman, OC ’11, won third place and $5,000 for his Full Circle Solutions venture, which creates value for Amsterdam’s organic waste streams.

The other five finalists included Community Hub, Newsreel, RIDE, StoryIt LLC, and PWR Technologies.

Eight finalists pitched their business ventures to a panel of judges at the Birenbaum Innovation and Performance Space at the Final Pitch, the culminating event for the annual program. However, the competition began with 22 ventures comprised of 13 student teams, seven alumni teams, and two faculty teams, who all began preparing in January.

Many who attended the Final Pitch noted that this year’s LaunchU was particularly impressive.

“It was the best year of LaunchU yet,” said Bryan Rubin, OC ’18, and 2018 LaunchU runner-up who attended the event. “The diversity of well thought-out companies was simply amazing. I wouldn’t have wanted to be a judge, I’ll tell you that.”

When asked what qualities LaunchU looks for in a winning venture, LaunchU Executive Committee Co-Chair Gene Carr, OC ’82, explained that judges weigh several factors, including how the funds will impact the venture.

“We consider the degree to which the LaunchU money will help them get off the ground,” he said.

LaunchU Executive Committee Co-Chair Chris Hausman, OC ’94 added that they also thoroughly considered the problem the venture tackled, the clarity of the solution, the size of the market, and potential competition.

The LaunchU program begins with a bootcamp over Winter Term, where teams learn the basics of business and enterprise, from identifying an opportunity or problem to developing and executing a sustainable action plan. Ventures are matched with mentors from the Oberlin community, often alumni or parents of students, who can share expertise and help teams refine their business models.

By the end of the month, ventures that are selected to move forward have the opportunity to compete for funds in the first round of pitches. Seven student and alumni ventures were awarded Honorable Mentions after the first round on Feb. 23, with funding ranging from $500 to $1,000. Many of these Honorable Mention winners plan to launch their campus-based businesses at Oberlin in the near future, according to Director of Entrepreneurship Bara Watts.

Both co-chairs noted that LaunchU provides participants with important networks that will help ventures become successful. During his introduction to the final proposals, Hausman said, “the ultimate aim of this program is to create a springboard for the wealth of ideas that come out of a community like Oberlin.”