Winners announced: High performance dress shoe venture wins Notre Dame’s 2015 Business Plan Competition

Author: Gigot Newsletters

The winning venture of the 16th Annual McCloskey Business Plan Competition addressed a nearly universal need: comfortable shoes.

Wolf & Shepherd, a designer of quality men’s footwear that incorporates high-performance technology, took the grand prize of $25,000 after the final round of the event on Friday (April 17). The McCloskey competition, which awards more than $300,000 in cash and in-kind prizes, is organized by the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.

We were very pleased to see a significant increase in the number of students involved in the competition this year.  Current undergraduate and graduate students became a vital part of every team, and they did an outstanding job representing these ventures in the final rounds.  The judges were impressed by the quality of ventures and by the presentations.

Wolf & Shepherd team members included founder Justin Schneider (ND BA ’11), Scott Lalor (ND MBA ’15), Molly Whitlock (ND MBA ’15), Cristina Gutierrez (ND BBA ’16) and James Sawdon (ND MBA ’15). Schneider noted that shoemakers have crafted dress shoes using technology dating back to the 1920s, with little emphasis on comfort as demanded by today’s more active lifestyles. Wolf & Shepherd offers classically designed dress shoes that incorporate a number of features designed to improve wearability, such as high-density EVA foam heels and memory foam insoles. The forefoot and the heels also are made to be replaceable, which prolongs the life of the shoe.

The runner-up of the McCloskey competition and winner of $5,000 was Apollo Medical Devices, the developer of a blood chemistry testing system that allows medical personnel to process results faster, and more easily and accurately than current systems. The patented technology can be used at a patient’s bedside using a single drop of blood.

In addition to the grand prize, McCloskey awarded 13 additional prizes, including the Klau Family Prize for Greatest Social Impact ($15,000), which was awarded to SolarPur, a venture that developed a new water purification technology that uses sunlight to kill disease-causing viruses, bacteria and protozoa. The technology can be adapted for multiple uses, from outdoor recreation and emergency preparedness, to aiding developing regions of the world that lack access to clean drinking water.

New this year was the Vennli Award for Best Undergraduate Venture, a $10,000 cash prize awarded to SESSA, an online and mobile application aimed at helping smaller or inexperienced investors access hedge-fund investing. The app enables users to form peer investment groups in order to share ideas, pool funds and connect with a professional adviser.  SESSA’s  success was notable because the team is composed primarily of students, including Joe Mueller (ND BS 2015), Federico Segura (ND BBA 2015), Stephanie Tilden (ND BSCSE 2015), Amie Wei (ND BBA 2015) and Nick LaRosa (ND BSCSE ’15), as well as Gerald Linn (ND MBA 2008), David Colson and Nicole Mueller.  Sessa was also selected to receive the Plug and Play Tech Center Startup Camp Award.  The team is currently developing the product at Plug and Play in Silicon Valley, and they anticipate that they will be ready to go to market very soon.

A total of 146 teams comprised of more than 400 individuals entered the competition in the fall of 2014. In December, 113 teams were advanced to the business plan round. On April 16, the top 20 semifinalist teams pitched their ventures to a panel of Gigot Advisory Board members, who served as judges. The judges narrowed the field to six teams for the final round of live presentations on Friday.

221 judges and mentors participated in this year’s contest. Throughout the competition, the Gigot Center provided significant resources, including an entrepreneurial toolkit of software, mentoring, networking and feedback.

A comprehensive list of award winners is as follows:

  • McCloskey Grand Prize ($25,000): Wolf & Shepherd, a high performance, quality design of classic footwear providing unparalleled comfort by concealing high performance foam technology into the heart of each shoe.
  • McCloskey Runner-up Prize ($5,000):  Apollo Medical Devices, an innovative blood chemistry testing system that can process results faster, cheaper and more accurately than existing processes. 
  • Klau Family Prize for Greatest Social Impact ($15,000):  SolaPur, a revolutionary new water purification technology that uses sunlight to kill disease causing viruses, bacteria and protozoa.
  • Vennli Award for Best Undergraduate Venture ($10,000): Sessa, an online and mobile app designed to enable peer investing groups to share ideas, pool resources and access financial advisors.
  • Plug and Play Tech Center Startup Camp Awards (a total of $50,000 in in-kind services including a 10-week immersive program in Silicon Valley, and access to programs and resources):  awarded to Enlightened Diagnostics, NeurTxt and Sessa. 
  • Sutherland Family Award for Best Presentation ($5,000): awarded to Apollo Medical Devices.
  • New this year, the IrishAngels Award - an opportunity to pitch before the IrishAngels Investing Group - was presented to Wolf & Shepherd.
  • Innovation Park at Notre Dame Accelerator Awards ($4,000 in space and consultation services) were presented to all 6 finalist teams.
  • Office of Technology Transfer Award ($10,000 in patent reimbursement awarded to the ND Technology with Best Commercial Potential): Enlightened Diagnostics, Medical Data Printers and SysGenomics.
  • FISH Social Venture R&D Award ($7,000 in cash and in-kind services): Sessa
  • Palo Alto Software Best Written Student Plans:  $1,000 for best undergraduate plan was awarded to Underground Sound, an online music competition for unsighted musicians.  $1,000 for best graduate plan went to Ultra Derm, an easy-to-use ultrasound-based solution providing quick and precise skin cancer diagnosis.
  • First State Bank Banking Award ($5,000 in cash and in-kind services): SolaPur
  • Vogel Family Award for Best Venture Fair Presentation ($1,000): BlueBucket, a for-profit social venture that facilitates charitable donations through partnerships with independent restaurants.

Update on Progress of Winners:

Recent McCloskey Winners Show Significant Progress

Recent McCloskey Business Plan Competition winners have gained significant progress since the conclusion of the Competition in April.  From attracting investors to gaining great media exposure to launching beta tests, the traction demonstrated by these startups is commendable.  Join us in congratulating Wolf & Shepherd, Apollo Medical Devices and Sessa Investing on the following accomplishments.

Grand Prize Winner Wolf & Shepherd

Since the April McCloskey final events, Wolf & Shepherd closed their beta launch and shipped all of their beta orders to customers. They are currently raising a family and friends round of $150K to continue moving forward with the venture, and have begun working on new shoe designs (including a Chelsea Boot, Wingtip and Chukka) for the Winter 2015 season. They have also begun a discussion with Notre Dame to explore the possibility of introducing a comfortable dress shoe that's unique to the Fighting Irish family. They have recently sold shoes to celebrities and politicians and have received positive feedback and endorsements from them. The Wolf & Shepherd social media presence on Facebook and Instagram has reached an all-time high, as they have worked hard to create photo and video content that highlights their manufacturing process and performance features. Finally, to continue ensuring that the quality of the shoes is top-notch, the Wolf & Shepherd team will be making a trip to Milan in March to explore new supplier relationships. Those who would like additional information may reach out directly to founder Justin Schneider at

Runner-up Apollo Medical Devices

Apollo Medical Devices, the 2015 runner-up in the McCloskey Business Plan Competition, has made swift progress since April. The team has raised an additional $225,000 through competitions and grants, including 1st place finishes at the Chicago TechWeek Launch Competition and Startup Scaleup Pitch Competition, Innovation Fund Northeast Ohio – winner, and Northeast Ohio Student Venture Fund – winner. The team has also signed its exclusive, worldwide, perpetual license with Case Western Reserve University, submitted two additional patent applications and added two full-time employees. The initial prototypes have been redesigned (photos below) and the company is working toward clinical testing. Apollo Medical Devices is developing a rapid blood chemistry test that provides results in five minutes with just a single drop of blood.  If you would like more information about Apollo, please contact CEO Patrick Leimkuehler via email at



Best Undergraduate Venture SESSA Investing

After graduating in May, Sessa co-founders Joe Mueller and Federico Segura moved to Silicon Valley to pursue launching Sessa full time.  Sessa is a social investing app that democratizes investing by allowing circles of trusted family and friends to collaborate, pitch ideas, and invest alongside each other. These circles are similar to Facebook groups and include a proposal system that brings the principles of crowd funding to publicly traded securities. Since winning the Plug and Play Tech Center award in April, Sessa has been at the Plug and Play Tech camp in Sunnyvale, California, and they are ready to start testing the app. They will begin with a stock market simulator and transition to real market trading as we finalize a partner broker or obtain the necessary registration. The Sessa team hopes to extend the opportunity to the Gigot Center network to join their beta test as a platform for Domers to reconnect, invest alongside each other, and support a Notre Dame student team as the next generation of innovation in Silicon Valley. They invite you to help them become the Facebook of finance, a powerful force for good in the future of financial inclusion. If you would like to help, you may sign up for their beta test here: If you are interested in becoming more involved or would like more information about Sessa, please contact Joe Mueller, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, via email