Beyond expectations: CataLight shines at worlds largest and richest student startup competition

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Kevin Dang and Ashley Keefner, Co-founders of CataLight are presented with a cheque by a representative from NASDAQ

CataLight, a University of Waterloo social impact startup shone brightly at the 2019 Rice Business Plan Competition (RBPC) competing head-to-head with students from the world’s top schools like MIT, Notre Dame, Penn State and Northwestern. After three days of competition, Co-founders Ashley Keefner, Ph.D., MBET and Kevin Dang, MBET advanced to the Final Round as one of only two Canadian teams competing, defeating 35 teams in the process.

While CataLight’s competition success among the 42 teams is a prestigious honour, the real excitement was the more than $190,000 CAD in combined cash prizes and offered investments they won. They have been offered a $125,000 USD investment from a ‘Super Angel Investor Network’ the Grand Order of Successful Entrepreneurs of Texas (GOOSE), a $15,000 USD cash for the Women’s Health and Wellness Prize, and $3000 USD for finishing seventh overall.

Rice Business Plan Competition (RPBC) by the numbers

The Rice Business Plan Competition (RPBC) is “the world’s richest and largest student startup competition, and this year’s award total was a record $2.9 million.” (Rice Business, 2019). This year’s competition included;

  • $2-Million USD in prizes;
  • 400 applicants from around the world;
  • 280 judges; 42 finalist teams;
  • 3 days of competition;
  • $1.9-Billion USD in funding raised.

Not their first rodeo

CataLight arrived in Houston, Texas, a well-seasoned team with extensive business and pitch competition experience. Having participated in competitions like the Hult Prize, The World’s Challenge Challenge, and Velocity Fund Finals in the past, they were expected to perform well at the 2019 RBPC.

“This didn’t just happen by accident. The CataLight team have been very receptive to the feedback they have received from everyone along their journey. Of course, they are incredibly hard-workers. They’ve probably rehearsed their pitch hundreds of times. In the question and answer period, the investors understood the breadth and depth of their experience to date, and their investments reflected confidence in CataLight’s accomplishments.” remarked Mentor and Advisor, David Rose, Associate Director of Graduate Studies, Conrad School of Entrepreneurship and Business who travelled with the team for the competition.

Exceeding even their close mentor’s expectations, Rose went on to say that “we knew from early on that it was going to be a strong finish for them based on the interest expressed by those at the competition. I may be biased, but CataLight was the talk of the competition amongst the investors and competition stakeholders I spoke with.”

Watch their one-minute elevator pitch

CataLight Co-Founder Ashley Keefner earned her Master of Arts (M.A), Philosophy; Graduate Diploma in Cognitive Science; Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.); Philosophy and Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) at Waterloo; and Co-Founder Kevin Dang earned his Bachelor of Applied Science (BASc), Chemical Engineering and Master of Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology (MBET) at Waterloo. CataLight is incubating in Velocity and getting support from the Accelerator Centre JumpStart program.

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