BC Students Win $5000 Innovation Award for VR Invention

By Shlomie Katash

 

   On Feb. 5, a team of students led by Brooklyn College graduate student Jonathan Colon secured first place at the Blackstone LaunchPad IDEAS Competition. This event is a CUNY-wide display of student entrepreneurship where teams pitch their business ideas in pursuit of the $5000 grand prize. Colon spearheaded the Prometheus Investors, a project centered on utilizing virtual reality simulations to make CUNY students more competitive in the finance job market. 

   The annual contest begins within eight CUNY campuses, with each institution selecting a winner in each of the four different categories: General, Consumer Products and Services, Health and Life Sciences, and Social Impact. Each college then sends one of their winners to represent them in a CUNY-wide competition to reward the best pitch, aiming to  “[equip] college students with entrepreneurial skills and internship opportunities to help them build lasting careers,” according to the contest’s website. Colon and his team won BC’s General Track Award before going on to win the next stage.

   Prometheus Investors started as a partnership between Colon, then an undergraduate finance student at BC and president of the school’s Investment Club, and club member Armando Morel, when the pair bonded over the shared difficulty of breaking into the job market as soon-to-be college graduates. 

   “We conducted more research and realized how big of an issue it was […] and we wanted to develop a solution to address that,” Colon told The Vanguard. 

   The pair came up with the idea to utilize VR technology to create simulated workplaces for prospective employees to participate in. The results and grades, based on specified metrics, are then sent to employers, proving the applicant’s capability.

  “What Prometheus Investors initially started off as was a financial tool that we wanted to develop as a VR simulated program for students trying to get into finance [by showing] recruiters that they could do the job,” Colon told The Vanguard. “One of the ways we wanted to do that was by leveraging VR and developing a virtual simulated environment where they could learn the job in a workplace that replicated a real-life workplace.”

   For instance, if someone was searching for a job in investment banking, then they would take part in a simulated investment banking office, filled with non-player characters, users, tasks, and roles. This would allow the applicant to learn more about their desired workplace and what would be expected of them while also showing the employer that they could do the job.

   From there, Prometheus Investors was cultivated between Colon, Morel, Nelson Lang, a Brooklyn College student with an affinity for computers, Matthew Nunez, an investment management major at Baruch College, and Roger Gonzalez, the manager of the Blackstone LaunchPad at Brooklyn College’s Innovation + Entrepreneurship Lab. Gonzalez helped the students throughout the process, refining their idea and pitch to build momentum and make Prometheus Investors a reality. 

   “Roger was like a mentor to us. He taught us how to personalize our own story, how to connect our ideas to who we are, and I think that what was most essential to compete, not just to get funding, but also to have the dream realized,” Colon said. “We would meet with him once or twice a week to go over the project, to pitch it vocally, to make sure that it’s as good as it could be, and get over any fears that we have of public speaking.” 

   With one win secured, as well as a $1000 grant from the National Science Foundation, Prometheus Investors now has their sights set on the David Prize, which rewards $200,000 to five New Yorkers “with the vision and conviction to change our communities, our culture, and our future for good,” according to the David Prize website. The group has already made it past two rounds of four and is awaiting a final decision slated for June. 

   Prometheus Investors has also begun taking steps to formalize their business through the use of CUNY facilities, such as developing a patent through CUNY’s Technology Commercialization Office. To the investors themselves, they credit getting involved with programs that BC and the larger CUNY system have to offer for innovators. 

   “Attend as many programs as humanly possible within CUNY,” Colon said. “There’s a lot of great programs. You’re going to be surprised if you just pop in one day, where that’s going to lead you. So be daring and have the courage to go in and do it.”

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