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Just weeks after the University of Bridgeport opened its new Student Entrepreneur Center, four UB students won the “Crowd Favorite” award at Connecticut Startup Weekend, a 32-hour challenge that invites contestants to pitch businesses ideas and compete for prizes to help bring them to market.

Giovana Soares, a design major at UB’s Shintaro Akatsu School of Design, led the winning team after pitching her start-up, Brighten Me Up, an app she invented that rewards users for waking up on time.

Three of the Brighten Me Up team included UB students Reynold Dmello, a computer science major; Oyindamola Ogunjobi, a mechanical engineering major; and MBA student Desmond Ntseh. Michael Xu, a professional developer, Chris Lut, a student from Quinnipiac University, and attorney Janine Tougas were the other members of Soares’s team.

Open to students and the general public from throughout the state, Connecticut Startup Weekend involves the skills and drama of speed dating, reality survival shows, and a Silicon Valley pitch to Wall Street.

Individual entrepreneurs like Soares initially pitch an idea for a new business with the aim of recruiting other competitors to their team. Once formed, finalist teams refine business plans and vie for final prizes.

Soares’s idea, Brighten Me Up, is a fee-based app that requires users to answer questions or complete other simple tasks to verify that they are awake. It then rewards points and prizes for getting out of bed.

As Crowd Favorite, Soares’s team won three months of rent-free space at a small business incubator in Hamden, Conn., to further develop the app.

Thanks to the new Student Entrepreneur Center (SEC) at UB, they won’t need it.

Opened at the Ernest C. Trefz School of Business on the UB campus in September, the Student Entrepreneur Center is staffed by six entrepreneurs-in-residence who provide free help to UB students from any academic department who have ideas for start-ups.

Mike Roer, one of the experts in residents at the SEC, said dozens of UB students who attended an opening event at the Center were told about the Startup Weekend competition. Twenty-four signed up.

“An executive from the reSET incubator in Hartford did say to me, ‘Wow! What is the secret to the [apparent] enthusiasm at the University of Bridgeport?’” said Roer, who accompanied the UB students to the competition. “I think it’s because we have an SEC. It’s been an instant success.”

Roer added he was “surprised by the number of students interested in the Student Entrepreneur Center, but we’re not surprised Brighten Me Up team took Crowd Favorite. Giovana did a great job in leading a disparate team of students and non-students from around the state in just 32 hours to the winner’s circle.”

Media contact: Leslie Geary, (203) 576-4625, lgeary@bridgeport.edu