On Nov. 1, the application opened for the 10th Annual Cupid’s Cup; the University of Maryland’s national business competition chaired by Kevin Plank ’96, founder and CEO of Under Armour. In thinking about the 10th anniversary of Cupid’s Cup, we’re taking a look back at past winners and semifinalists whose companies have made it “big” after participating in the nation’s toughest business competition. We’ll start with last year’s grand prize winner, John Lewandowski.
John is a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the founder and CEO of Disease Diagnostic Group (DDG), a medical device company specializing in the development of rapid, accurate, reusable, mechanical, and inexpensive disease diagnostic tests. DDG’s flagship product is RAM (Rapid Assessment of Malaria), a potable device that can detect an infection using, basically, a laser pointer and a refrigerator magnet.
John spoke about the process of applying to compete in Cupid’s Cup, attending the semifinal round at the Under Armour headquarters, and competing at the final competition. For John, meeting the Under Armour staff and listening to the other semifinalists helped him understand what kind of pitch would resonate with the judges. He listened to how the other entrepreneurs talked about their products, right down to the exact vocabulary they used. This helped John craft the pitch that landed him in the top five. While at Under Armour John there was one word that stuck in his head: brand. John quickly realized that Under Armour, the Dingman Center, and the University of Maryland all had strong strong brand recognition and it made him think about what he wanted the DDG brand to look like. Keeping all of these things in mind, John delivered a pitch that stood out to both the judges and the audience, winning both the Audience Choice Award and the Grand Prize at Cupid’s Cup 2014.
Immediately after winning Cupid’s Cup, John began riding the media and investor wave following all of the investor contacts that came from the exposure of the competition. He also started competing again. John and DDG was a finalist in Tech Crunch’s Disrupt Europe and won the MIT $100K Launch Competition, as well as $100K from MassChallenge, the world’s largest accelerator. Being a global company, Disrupt Europe was particularly beneficial for DDG.
Since winning Cupid’s Cup, John Lewandowski has turned his prize money into more money, having raised an additional $500K. Most of the Cupid’s Cup grand prize went to building infrastructure for the company; formalizing subsidiaries, making consulting agreements with engineers and executives for development of the new prototypes, manufacturing the new prototypes, and forming partnerships. Two important new partnerships resulted from his Cupid’s Cup exposure. One with Bosch who supporting DDG’s work in India. Second is a partnership with a Japanese company to cover southeast Asia.
Currently, DDG is in a whirlwind of product development, trying to build out to other diseases. Over the next six months they’ll be deploying a large number of units in India and Uganda.
For student entrepreneurs applying to Cupid’s Cup, John had this to say:
Take full advantage of your time with the Dingman Center. In coaching, give your pitch and listen. Let the coaches critique each slide.
In preparing for the final competition, John also watched the entire live show from the previous year to get a sense of the format and learn from other pitches. He also thinks it is important to think from the mind of Cupid’s Cup chairman, Kevin Plank.
He wants a company that can have impact. It’s less about showcasing your device, everyone wants to know about it, but but spend more time on the potential and the impact. Why would Kevin Plank want to have his name associated with your company? What would having Kevin Plank’s name associated do for your company?