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Student entrepreneurs pitch innovations at annual Demo Days

Originally published on Princeton University News by Molly Sharlach, Office of Engineering Communications and featured on Princeton Info

There were 7 pitches delivered this month as the annual capstone of the eLab Summer Accelerator Program organized by the Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education. Teams of students and recent graduates pitched their innovations to audiences at the program’s seventh-annual Demo Days, Each of the seven teams will show a two-minute video, give an eight minute pitch, and then take questions. These Demo Days were held in the Frick Chemistry Lab at Princeton on August 14 and at the Manhattan headquarters of the technology firm AppNexus on August 15.

Margaret Martonosi, the Hugh Trumbull Adams ’35 Professor of Computer Science and the Keller Center director, welcomed participants to the event. She said programs such as eLab offer students new opportunities for growth in addition to the pathways that they see intellectually through their major.


The HomeWorks team, which joined the eLab accelerator for a second year, rattled off a list of challenges facing public high schools in nearby Trenton, New Jersey: low graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, and students falling short of standards in literacy in math.

Natalie Tung, the nonprofit organization’s co-founder and executive director, cited her own experience in boarding school as a model for providing enrichment, support and stability to high-potential students from low-income communities. Tung, who graduated from Princeton this spring with a degree in English, worked with four fellow students to pioneer HomeWorks in 2017. The program provides an after-school boarding program for middle and high school girls in Trenton — a supplement to the city’s public schools that helps build the girls’ confidence and leadership skills.

Last summer, five girls lived in the organization’s group home from Sunday nights through Friday mornings while they attended summer courses at Trenton public schools. This summer, the program expanded to 10 scholars, and emphasized a project-based curriculum in civic engagement and women’s empowerment, said operations director Madelyn Baron, who graduated from Princeton this spring with a degree in mechanical and aerospace engineering.

HomeWorks has established partnerships with more than a dozen local organizations to provide food, workshops and more. Beginning in fall 2019 it plans to extend its program into the academic school year, and will eventually take on up to 40 scholars.

Feedback panelist Kennard suggested that, in addition to individual donors, corporate sponsors and private and government grants, HomeWorks should consider seeking contracts with the Department of Education for transportation and other services.

“You may be able to reduce the costs so much that it becomes a more scalable venture,” said Kennard. “If you could do that … you could really change the next generation.”

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