NYU School of Professional Studies Announces Pitch Competition Winners

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NEW YORK—While the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the hospitality, tourism, and food and beverage sectors, it has not stifled the innovation needed to create new business ventures. In fact, it has fueled even greater resourcefulness, creativity, and entrepreneurship.

This was apparent in the recent announcement of the inaugural “Pitch Your Passion & Seal the Deal” competition, hosted by the Hospitality Innovation Hub Incubator within the Hospitality Innovation Hub (HI Hub) of the NYU School of Professional Studies Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality. While the Tisch Center is known across the industry, its HI Hub was launched in late August 2021 and serves as a place to convene industry professionals, entrepreneurs, and students with ideas for new ventures while providing mentorship for NYU affiliated start-up businesses.

The “Pitch Your Passion & Seal the Deal” competition was designed to stimulate ideas for new industry innovation by cultivating a competitive process that identifies and funds fledging businesses in sectors that have needed to evolve to not only survive but thrive.

“Through the new HI Hub and this competition, the Tisch Center of Hospitality has established itself as a place where innovation and entrepreneurship are front and center in serving the industry, our students, and emerging entrepreneurs who are using the disruption we are experiencing to their advantage,” said Nicolas Graf, Jonathan M. Tisch Center of Hospitality chaired professor and associate dean of the Tisch Center.


After receiving submissions for a number of start-ups, six finalists—Dinesurf, Hotel+, Kenta Ramen, Our Vintage Earth, Swagger Gaming, and Urban Safe—were chosen by a group of industry experts who serve as advisers to the HI Hub along with Tisch faculty members and administrators. Kenta Ramen, which offers autonomous micro-retail for ready-to-eat, authentic Japanese ramen delivered within 45 seconds, won the first-place prize of $10,000.

“Automation in the industry is imminent. Ideally, Kenta Ramen will be like Sweetgreen or Shake Shack (but for gourmet ramen and Japanese cuisine) all delivered with sustainability, automation, and convenience,” said founder Daniel Liu, who graduated from the NYU School of Professional Studies MS in Management and Systems degree in 2019. “The mentorship provided by the HI Hub incubator program enabled our project to move forward in a variety of ways including establishing product-market fit, planning the initial launch, and team building.”

The second and third place winners were DineSurf, a restaurant reservation platform for diners in Africa that helps them to find places to eat and provides a hassle-free reservation system, and Swagger, a sports prediction platform that empowers sports fans of all skill levels to predict live sports outcomes. They each received $5,000 in funding.

“The business sectors we serve have suffered some of the greatest losses during the pandemic, yet these industries are incredibly resilient in being able to reinvent themselves in new ways. The early success of the HI Hub and the incredible ideas generated by this competition are a testament to a growing and emerging group of entrepreneurs who have what it takes to rise above adversity and shape the future of this industry,” concluded Recep Karaburun, DPS, clinical assistant professor of hospitality and tourism, and director of the HI Hub Incubator at the Tisch Center. “We are looking forward to receiving many more innovative ideas from NYU students and alumni that we can work to bring to life through the Hospitality Innovation Hub Incubator. Our new spring cohort application is now open and NYU alumni and students can apply here.”

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