Software Engineering Grad Students Take Top Prize at Techstars Startup Weekend

Software Engineering Grad Students Take Top Prize at Techstars Startup Weekend

winners of techstars startup weekend stamford

(l-r) Plant Wiki team members: Yanbei Xie, Pawan Pillai, Serena Lo, and Thuy Le

Four Fairfield University graduate students in the Software Engineering program won first place for their Plant Wiki app during September’s Techstars Startup Weekend in Stamford.

The end goal is to build a community of plant lovers who may learn new things about gardening, share their gardening knowledge with each other, and make use of Plant Wiki’s in-app marketplace for all their gardening needs.

— Pawan Pillai, software engineering graduate student

Techstars Startup Weekends, in partnership with Google for Startups, are run by local organizers in more than 700 cities and 150 countries around the world. The event that took place in Stamford, Conn. from Friday, September 20 to 22 immersed a group of graduate students from Fairfield’s Software Engineering program in a startup environment that felt more like a 54-hour crash course in how to create a product, launch a business, and connect with experienced mentors and potential investors.

The weekend began for Fairfield grad students Pawan Pillai, Serena Lo, Thuy Le, and Yanbei Xie with Friday night idea pitches, during which they met and joined forces with three additional weekend participants, Theodoros Koutsoukis, Kofi Osei, and Brahma Sen.

Together, the group spent the next two days creating their Plant Wiki app, testing it, and developing a business model. The weekend culminated on Sunday night with a demonstration before a panel of judges comprised of potential investors and local entrepreneurs.  

If it’s true, as the Techstars website claims, that “the hardest part of starting up is starting out,” the co-creators of the Plant Wiki App did not just slog through the hard part, they sailed to a first-place finish and $300 cash prize.

The group’s prizewinning product, Plant Wiki, is a smartphone app that targets urban populations to assist with their gardening needs. The innovative app focuses on three primary areas: (1) plant identification and gardening tips, (2) a discussion board, and (3) an in-app marketplace.

According to team member Pawan Pillai, “There are many plant and gardening apps in various app stores, but most of them are either not good or are paid or subscription-based,” which is not conducive to long-term use.

What sets Plant Wiki apart is that the app combines the best features of all competitors’ apps, plus it's free. Said Pillai, “By keeping the app free to use for the end consumer, we hope to gain a large user base. At the same time, we plan to build a marketplace within the app where small and big-box sellers can sell their products directly to app users." Revenue generated from a small commission on each sale within the app will help to keep the app free for users. 

The Plant Wiki app will initially rely on 3rd party sources for plant and soil information, but the developers hope to eventually build a large dataset that can be mined for knowledge and marketplace recommendations. “The end goal,” explained Pillai, “is to build a community of plant lovers who may learn new things about gardening, share their gardening knowledge with each other, and make use of Plant Wiki’s in-app marketplace for all their gardening needs.”

Energized by his fellow entrepreneurs and ready to grow Plant Wiki to the next level, Pillai said, “The Techstars Startup event was a wonderful experience. We got to learn a lot about how to build a startup, and we met many mentors and advisors.”

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Last modified: 10-04-19 10:52 AM

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