Innovation in Action


Switchboard, a messaging service that allows students to connect anonymously and randomly with other students at their college, was the judges' choice at the final round of the 5th annual SwatTank competition.

Before a large crowd in the Science Center's Chang Hou Hall, the team of Michael Piazza '17, a computer science major from Oakland, Calif., and Eric Wang '18, a computer science major from Portland, Ore., impressed the panel of three alumni judges with their third iteration of the service. With Switchboard, once a student verifies his or her school email, they can find peers by major, interest, or location, while maintaining safe and fully anonymous conversations.

"Our primary theory is that text messaging SMS versus real-time chat is a psychologically very distinct experience. With SMS you can have a low-pressure conversation that will go on across the day," Piazza told the Daily Gazette following the competition. Read an interview with the Switchboard founders at the Daily Gazette.

Second place went to the team behind New Dae Farms, which includes Max Rogow ‘20 of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Rebecca Fisher and Joseph Leroux of Haverford College. New Dae Farms aims to change the supply chain of the edible cricket industry to maximize sustainability and feed the world in a sustainable way.

Collab, created by Meiri Anto ‘17, a computer science and economics major from Atherton, Calif., Michelle Ma ‘20 of Falls Church, Va., and Seimi Park ‘20 of Virginia Beach, Va., finished in third place overall and was awarded Best Pitch at the event. Collab is a social impact advisory firm that works to integrate onsite childcare into office and co-working spaces. By making marginal changes to existing infrastructure, Collab aims to create spaces conducive to both professional and parental development.

First-years Gus Burchell ‘20 of Lincoln, Neb., Natasha Markov-Riss ‘20 of Providence, R.I., and Roman Shemakov ‘20 of Mesa, Ariz., finished in fourth place with Zing, which provides locking, solar-powered cell phone charging stations catered exclusively to college campuses and custom designed to reflect the campus community.

Now in its fifth year, SwatTank aims to equip students with the tools needed to become successful entrepreneurs by developing a co-thinking space where students with creative ideas can come together and talk about development and feasibility; a starting point where students with little or no experience in business can learn the basics of entrepreneurship; resources such as alumni mentors with experience in business and entrepreneurship; and skill building such as public speaking and team-work skills. 

“At a glance, SwatTank is simply an innovation competition. Come up with an idea, pitch it, and see how much traction the idea has. But the skills being honed in this process are much more,” says Katie Clark, director of the Center for Innovation and Leadership. “They range from public speaking to design as well as relationship building and learning how to market an idea you believe in. The students have done an amazing job and it has been a pleasure to watch the development and iterations of ideas."

This year’s alumni judges included Jeff Gerstel ‘86, chief marketing officer of B&H Photo; Dan Werther ‘83, CEO of Sorbee International; and Shayna Nickel, VCAM Innovation Program Manager at Haverford College. Nick Martin ‘04, founder and CEO of TechChange, served as host for the evening.

Prior to April’s final round, six other teams - Side Hustle, Graid, Gameplan, Phoenix energies, Arrabi, and Dono-Bono - participated in February’s first round. In total, more than 30 students – a new record – participated in this year’s SwatTank competition.