Baker Institute Spotlights Entrepreneurial Talent at Innovate! Celebrate! Awards
Updated: Apr 9
The Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation held its annual Innovate! Celebrate! Awards Dinner and EUREKA! Grand Prize Competition on Tuesday, April 5, 2022 with Giana Jarrah ‘22, founder of student venture project, With Meraki Co. earning the night’s top honor.
Tuesday’s celebration brought guests together to recognize Lehigh’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem - and the students, faculty, and supporters fueling innovation and creativity in the space.
“I want to acknowledge the influence and impact of the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity, and Innovation, which for more than a decade has played a critical role in fostering an entrepreneurial mindset in Lehigh students from all backgrounds, identities, and disciplines. It has provided a platform for those with a desire to launch their own solutions,” said Lehigh University President Joseph Helble '82 in his opening remarks. “Tonight's Innovate! Celebrate! awards dinner is an opportunity to recognize the impact of immersive, hands-on experiences that help students learn to solve problems, create valuable solutions, and make a difference in the world through an entrepreneurial mindset -- regardless of the career path they embark on.”
The evening’s highly anticipated Joan F. & John M. Thalheimer ‘55 Grand Prize pitch competition centered on three student venture projects that progressed the furthest during the ‘21-’22 school year—pitching, winning and advancing through the EUREKA! monthly pitch events. Vying for the top prize of $5,000 were Michael Rich ‘23 of Streamlined, a platform providing small businesses with affordable, preference-based software; Giana Jarrah ‘22 of With Meraki Co., whose probiotic supplement is designed to support women's urinary and vaginal health.; and Philip Ho ‘25 of Donkee, a food delivery service that caters to university students, Ho represented his team of all first-year students: Muz Jawed ‘25, Ethan Lavi ‘25, Jake Murphy ‘25 and Angelique Ronca ‘25.
The grand prize finalists spent the week leading up to the event crafting video recordings of their pitches and prepping for closed-door sessions with judges, where they answered questions about their ventures mere hours before each finalist pitched live in front of the event’s audience of more than 100 Lehigh students, faculty, staff, and donors. The panel of grand prizes judges, comprised of Julia Pardee ‘21, Moe Rinkunas ‘02, ‘04G, ‘14G, and Susan Yee ‘82, added commentary in between live pitches before closing out an eventful night with the announcement of Jarrah and her venture, With Merkai Co. as the evening’s grand prize winner.
"Serving as a EUREKA! judge is an energizing experience. Lehigh has a long history of producing problem solvers, and it is clear that the student entrepreneurs that pitched are no exception. They have the right mindset to tackle any challenge,” said Moe Rinkunas ‘02, ‘04G, ‘14G. “Giana is clearly so passionate about her venture and solving a meaningful challenge in a historically underserved area. With her drive and commitment, coupled with the strong scientific understanding that she has developed, we felt that she is well-positioned to start building a business around a pressing need."
The $5,000 grand prize will allow Jarrah to place supplements in the hands of carefully selected consumers who will test the product and share feedback that will inform her progress moving forward with the mission to empower women at the forefront.
“I chose the name Meraki because it means to do something with love, soul and creativity - to leave a piece of yourself in your work,” shared Jarrah. “I wanted a name that would display my passion for advancing women’s health. And so, my entire motto of putting my customers first with the utmost love, soul and creativity is now embedded in the name and the grand prize will mean I can connect with women on a level that makes them feel seen and cared for.”
In an unexpected twist, the panel of grand prize judges announced a special award in addition to the grand prize announcement. An “EUREKA! DNA” recognition, coined as the first of its kind by judge Susan Yee ‘82, was awarded to grand prize finalist Philip Ho ‘25 for his special display of entrepreneurial passion, which stood out to the judges during his pitch and in further Q&A sessions earlier in the day. This prize comes with $2,500 for Ho to use in scaling up his venture, Donkee.
“I’m excited to work more with my team. I believe each member of our team is an absolute beast in their respective interests - they are each so passionate and dedicated to their craft and it has definitely shown in all aspects of our operations,” shared Ho ‘25. “We are grateful for the recognition, but honestly, we’re just 5 kids having fun. We will use additional resources to explore various marketing channels, validate certain aspects of our audience and operations, and form meaningful partnerships with other organizations.”
Before the excitement of the grand prize live pitches, attendees at Innovate! Celebrate! visited Innovation Alley upon arrival, visiting six demo tables featuring student venture projects that all won funding and resources during monthly EUREKA! Pitch Nights throughout the year. With $5 million “Baker Bucks” in hand, every guest had the opportunity to “invest” in their favorite student venture projects before dinner, leaving the Baker Institute team to count the votes before announcing the winner of the coveted EUREKA! People’s Choice Award at the end of the evening.
The Institute’s Innovator in Residence and Adjunct Faculty, Chris Kauzmann ‘13 ‘14G presented the People’s Choice Award to InfernoGuard LLC, who secured the honor by only two votes more than the runner up. InfernoGuard LLC, co-founded by Zoe Sherman ‘25 alongside three of her childhood friends, who all attend different universities across the country, is an environmental startup that offers an outdoor fire detection device that monitors properties for signs of fire. Sherman has expanded the InfernoGuard LLC team to include additional Lehigh students: Matthew Schneiderman ‘24 , Sam Miller ‘25, and Sebastian Wick ‘24. The People’s Choice Award is among many that InfernoGuard LLC has secured in recent months having earned the $100,000 Climate Change Grand Prize during the Arizona State University Innovation Open in February.
“It was a proud moment for the Baker Institute's students and staff when President Helble described the energy everyone experienced at Tuesday's celebration as palpable, added Baker Institute Executive Director, Lisa Getzler. “The excitement built as each speaker and awardee shared their stories about entrepreneurial mindset and skills they first experienced in our programs and subsequently adopted as lifelong assets.”
Soaring in Silicon Valley
During an evening in which women’s health took center stage in front of a panel of esteemed alumnae judges, the Baker Institute also fittingly joined in Lehigh’s Soaring Together Initiative, which marks the 50th year of undergraduate coeducation, by spotlighting three young alumnae who, having been inspired during their time at Lehigh, have gone on to roles in startups and Silicon Valley companies. The three alumnae, Nadine Elsayed ‘18; Eve Freed ‘21; and Julia Pardee ‘21 shared personal messages about their time at Lehigh and the experiences that led to their careers before joining the Institute’s Executive Director, Lisa Getzler for a fireside chat - a highlight in the evening’s “Soaring in Silicon Valley” festivities.
“I got my first taste of the west coast junior year as a member of that year’s LehighSiliconValley cohort. I knew instantly this is where I would be moving post graduation, shared Freed ‘21 during her remarks. “It was electric, to feel that sense of belonging in a new place on day one. I left California knowing I’d be one of the people telling their own story for future Baker students. To take that leap of faith took an incredible amount of courage, confidence, and trust. I owe this to the Baker programs - they helped me to pave the way to my current role.”
In speaking directly to the current Lehigh students in the room, Elsayed shared her advice: “Recognize the formidable skills and passions you’re honing here with the Baker Institute… It is rare to find an undergraduate program that will help you map out your dreams and then set you on the proper course – with the right tools and resources – for you to accomplish them. These will help you not only during your time at Lehigh but for years to come as you delve into your professional careers.”
Pardee ‘21 shared more about her experience in the Baker Institute’s LehighSiliconValley (LSV) program, which led her to a career-changing connection with Tim Eades, CEO of VArmour and Co-Founder of Cyber Mentor Fund, where she’s now employed. She detailed how her presentation to Eades and the VArmour team during LSV eventually led to a summer associate role at Cyber Mentor Fund, which eventually led to a full-time venture associate role upon graduation.
“As I’ve met more venture associates over the past 9 months, I’ve realized how unique of a story this is…” remarked Pardee ‘21. “...Lehigh Silicon Valley has had the single greatest impact on my career of any class or activity I’ve participated in. This program pushed me towards an industry I never considered and have grown to love. I am incredibly grateful for LSV and the opportunity it gave me.”
Freed ‘21, a Marketing Program Manager at VMware; Pardee ‘21, a Junior Venture Associate at Cyber Mentor Fund, and Elsayed ‘18, a Marketing and Communications Specialist at Adobe remained in Bethlehem post-event to participate in additional Baker Institute events and programs, including as featured guests at a LehighSiliconValley reunion for the 2021 and 2022 cohorts and a EUREKA! Venture Program Founder’s Circle gathering, which joins current student founders every month to talk through the ups and downs of the student entrepreneurial experience.
Annual Awards Recognize Students, Alumni, and Faculty
The Baker Institute presented a full slate of awards during the evening, with various honors going to students, alumni, and faculty leading entrepreneurial thinking across all areas of campus and throughout the greater Lehigh community.
The Farrington Award for Outstanding Commitment to Entrepreneurship at Lehigh is the highest accolade bestowed by the Baker Institute annually and is given to a person who has made a positive impact on the Lehigh entrepreneurial community. Past recipients have included Paul Martino ‘95, Dale Falcinelli ’70 ’72G, Alita Friedman ’87, Tom Gillis ’14P ’17P ’19P, Joan Thalheimer, and John Thalheimer ‘55.
This year’s Farrington Award was presented to Jamie Flinchbaugh ‘94 ‘24P ‘26P whose contributions to the Lehigh entrepreneurship network have opened doors for the university’s next generation of innovators to succeed.
“As the Baker Institute's most recent Farrington Award honoree, I am thrilled to be included with a list of past recipients who have contributed so much to Lehigh, said Flinchbaugh. “From our scholarship to student mentoring to the forthcoming Ventures Lab, every engagement I have encourages me to want to do more.”
Dr. Farah Vallera '03G, '15Ph.D., a Professor of Practice in the Teaching, Learning and Technology program in Lehigh's College of Education was awarded the John B. Ochs Teaching Award, which is presented to a faculty member who has taken initiative and risks in teaching by embracing entrepreneurial mindset. Vallera is a passionate advocate for Design Thinking and an entrepreneurial approach to problem-solving within Lehigh’s College of Education, leaving her colleagues and students inspired to take risks and innovate.
Jake Murphy ’25 was awarded the Michael Levin ‘87 Advanced Technology Award, which goes to an engineering student developing new technologies. His venture, Royalty Wallet is a cash back web extension for e-commerce websites like Amazon.
Justin Gelwicks ‘23 was awarded the Joan and John Thalheimer ‘55 Award for Student Achievement, which recognizes entrepreneurial achievement from a student in any discipline, for their venture Three Dimensional Captures, a comprehensive service offering 3D virtual tours, schematic floor plans, and property photos to landlords across all property types.
Declan Coster ‘22 received The Donald Flinchbaugh Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded annually to a rising senior that best exhibits potential and interest in entrepreneurship. Coster’s accomplishments include a long-standing tenure on the executive board of Lehigh’s New Ventures Club and participation in the Institute’s LehighSiliconValley program in 2021.
Alex Copits ‘23, Rachelle Huh ‘23, Nicholas Wilson ‘22, and Jan Maciejewski ‘22 received The Helen and R.K. Laros Foundation Endowed Prize for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation, which recognizes students who have participated in programs with the Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation This year’s winners demonstrate entrepreneurial spirit and are inspired to tackle the world’s challenges with the design thinking approach and entrepreneurial mindset.
A Deepening Partnership and A Growing Entrepreneurial Ecosystem at Lehigh
The event was held at Ben Franklin TechVentures®, two-time winner of the International Business Innovation Association Incubator of the Year award. The Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania (BFTP_NEPA) has worked closely with Lehigh University from its beginning in 1984. Ben Franklin clients draw on the expertise of Lehigh faculty and the support of students, several of whom intern and are then hired. Clients have also used Lehigh’s equipment resources. These relationships have been extremely beneficial to Lehigh, Ben Franklin, and the business technology ecosystem of the entire region.
“We at Ben Franklin are delighted with the impacts of our collaborative work with Lehigh University,” said Angelo J. Valletta, President and Chief Executive Officer of BFTP_NEPA. “Lehigh develops the skillsets and mindsets of the future technology entrepreneurs who will launch here at Ben Franklin TechVentures.”
Despite the evening’s focus on the Baker Institute’s Decade of Impact and those students, faculty, and alumni whose accomplishments served as highlights of the 2021-2022 academic year, the Institute also detailed what’s next for entrepreneurship at Lehigh.
Georgette Chapman Phillips, the Kevin L. and Lisa A. Clayton Dean of the College of Business announced the official launch of LehighVenturesLab, a partnership between Lehigh Business and the Baker Institute slated to open officially in the new Business building this fall.
Made possible by the expansion of the Baker Institute through the establishment of the Thalheimer Enterprise Alliance, whose benefactor Joan Thalheimer was in attendance on Tuesday, LehighVenturesLab amplifies the Institute’s entrepreneurial resources to support full-time venture founders.
“The launch of LehighVenturesLab is a significant moment for the entrepreneurship ecosystem here at Lehigh,” said Chapman Phillips. “This new initiative will drive entrepreneurship at the University to the next level. We will be taking products and services to the commercialization stage. We will be supporting founders who are working full time to take their creations to market.”
Along with Tuesday’s celebration came the validation of the Institute’s impact, but also a call to action for what’s still to come.
“With the combination of our efforts so far and our collective desire and ability to lift entrepreneurial mindset into a university-wide focus along with the promise of more monumental opportunities to come for Lehigh students, faculty, staff, and the surrounding community of entrepreneurial thinkers and doers, Lehigh is poised to claim its rightful place as a best in class entrepreneurial university, said Getzler.”