How Students Succeed in Business: A Great Pitch, Outstanding Mentors and Potential Investors

Published: April 05, 2018

Imagine a biotechnology sensing drone system that can assist public safety responders reduce crime response time; assess conditions in hard to reach geographical areas after natural disasters; and technology to detect changing environmental conditions. Or, an electronic tracking bracelet that allows caregivers to track high-risk individual’s location in real-time such as special needs students and those who have dementia.

These business ideas, developed by Queensborough students, are called Eagle-I and SafeBit, respectively. Each were among the winning pitches presented at the fall CUNY Innovation Challenge, designed to provide students with real-world, hands-on learning experiences and to successfully transfer their knowledge into creating products and services that benefits society. This program also teaches students how to conduct Customer Discovery interviews and how to present their findings in a professional manner.

A total of four Queensborough teams, all STEM focused, received $11,250, the highest funding of any CUNY school. Queensborough also had the highest number of teams of any CUNY school in the finale, and three of the four teams moved on toward applications for the NSF National I-Corps program. The funds awarded were the highest prize amounts that they were eligible to receive. These research grants are funded through the NSF I-Corps STEM TIES Sites program of which Dr. Christine Mooney, Associate Professor in the Business department at Queensborough, serves as the Co-Principal Investigator. 

The four QCC teams, all STEM focused, finished in the top spots in the challenge. The teams will receive over $10,000 to continue their research projects through the NSF grant. 

“It was an amazing experience to see an investor’s eyes light-up after we made our pitch,” said John Saeteros, whose team created Safebit, which tracks location with the use of a cloud-based mobile application to receive notifications and an audible location alarm. The team is creating an iWatch App and Cloud Backend with AI & Machine Learning that will track the location of children and the elderly. John is currently building a prototype in Queensborough’s Engineering lab under the guidance of Engineering Technology Professor Michael Lawrence.

Throughout the program, students brainstormed challenges for various topics, including Biological & Chemical Sciences, Energy & Clean Tech and Social Entrepreneurship. They used their challenges to create a feasible product and understand the market that they are trying to attract.

Mateo Sáenz and his team also caught the attention of investors with their business idea, Eagle-I. Mateo said, “I’ve always been fascinated with aviation and wanted to design a bladeless drone to improve surveillance on CUNY campuses. The team is building a prototype using the Engineering Technology lab with the support of Professor Lawrence.

“We are extremely grateful to Professor Lawrence and Dr. Nidhi Gadura (Biological Sciences and Geology), without whom, the program would not have these talented, hardworking students. I am confident we will see them moving into the NYS Business Plan Competition this year,” said Dr. Mooney.

The judge’s panel remarked on the inspiring story of Mergon Pierre, '17, of the Safebit team. Mergon barely survived the 2010 Haiti earthquake. His survival drove him to pursue a college education. His father was present at the event to watch his son, the first in their family to attend college. 

Now the teams have applied to the NSF Community College STEM Innovation Challenge. They will go through multiple rounds of challenge and training in creating social business. The finalists will compete in Montreal in September.


  • Mateo Sάenz 
  • Kevin Almeida
  • Oscar Pais
  • Dr. Christine Mooney, Queensborough Mentor
  • Taco Gilbert (Sierra Nevada Corporation), Outside Mentor


  • John Saeteros
  • Carolin Mancebo
  • Mergon Pierre, '17
  • Professor Michael Lawrence, Queensborough Mentor
  • Virginia Trauth, University of Missouri, External Post-doc Mentor


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