PULLATracker, a mobile safety app startup founded by Siena Rampulla, took home first place and $30,000, the highest prize ever awarded to a student at the 2023 Rohrer New Venture Competition, on Friday, April 21.
The Rohrer New Venture competition is an annual event hosted by the Rowan Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RCIE) where five finalists are selected to pitch their business to a panel of judges for a chance to win prize money and network with individuals who can help bring their ideas and businesses to the next level. In 2022, first-place winners won $4,000, but this year that prize increased to $30,000 due to a grant from the Rowan Innovation Venture Fund.
This year’s panel of judges was star-studded, featuring several entrepreneurs including Mike Connallon, the executive director of Agency Securities Finance at J.P. Morgan, Nika Corbett, the owner of Curate Noir, Joseph Cosgrove, the president and CEO of Leiters, Lauren Hanson who is the founder and CEO of flipMD from GoodRx, and Shawn Hill, the managing partner of August Hill.
The judges were tasked to rank five student startup pitches. Each finalist had to make it through several rounds of semifinals before giving their final pitch at the competition. These businesses included first place winner PULLATracker by Siena Rampulla, second place winner 4UMedical Designs by Nick Nastasi and Josh Perry, third place winner Bobica Bars by Harrison Nastasi and Justin Iannelli, along with honorable mentions Lushious Beauty by Shaila Saini and Art for Hope Studio by Ashley Kulikowski. Each startup is run by Rowan students of different majors and all five finalists this year also happened to be in Rowan’s CEO club.
According to Dr. Eric Liguori, founding head of the School of Innovation & Entrepreneurship, the decision on who would win this year’s competition was one of the most difficult yet.
“I think it went really well. It was the most competitive I’ve ever seen the New Venture Competition be. The judges deliberated for twice as long as they ever have because it was just really hard for them to make a decision. I think so many of the teams brought their A-game and just over delivered and I think it was representative of how dynamic and diverse our entrepreneurial ecosystem is,” Liguori said.
Ultimately, the winning student was not a business or entrepreneurship major. PULLATracker’s founder Siena Rampulla is a senior psychology major with an honors concentration and a journalism minor. Rampulla attended the New Venture Expo in 2022 and won “Best in Show” but did not advance to the final competition. Rather than being discouraged, she let that motivate her and she was determined to come back this year to take home the prize.
“In my head, I was like, ‘Two isn’t an option. We have to be number one,’ because last year I didn’t even make the competition and I only made the expo so I’m like, ‘Okay, I’m going to prove that I deserve my place in the competition this year’ and it was fantastic,” Rampulla said.
PULLATracker is an app that is modeled and targeted towards college women and their parents to keep women safe on campuses. The app has four buttons: one for fire, EMS, police and “nothing yet.”
The “nothing yet” button serves as an extra precaution when women feel like they may be being followed or in an unsafe situation, but are not actively being pursued or attacked. The nothing yet button is a fail-safe button that ensures that police aren’t getting alerts by mistake.
PULLATracker will contact the appropriate authorities to come to the scene after a woman presses the middle pink button on the screen, and if her personal code is not entered before the 10 second fail-safe countdown finishes.
Rampulla came up with the idea for the app after a man stalked her and her sorority sisters and broke into her college home last year. He was found by police K-9 hiding with a weapon under her kitchen sink. She took that frightening experience and used it to create a way to try to make women feel safe in the event that an instance like that home invasion occurs.
“What we need to realize is these women are our sisters, our nieces and our daughters. We can’t even fathom something of this caliber happening to them. Until it does,” said Rampulla during her pitch.
She also went on to talk about how PULLATracker will be accessible for all women on campus. The app is currently in development, but the team is working on getting its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance to ensure that the website and app are resources that all women can access and use.
In her pitch, Rampulla included that she would be using the $30,000 for the application server and website maintenance, cyber security costs to keep customer data safe, marketing costs and cyber liability insurance. Rampulla noted after the competition that without the help from her team and the support of her loved ones, PULLATracker would not be where it is today.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do any of this without my team. We had an entrepreneurial engineer, Isabella [Giampetro] is our Marketing intern, Alex Varga, he was in entrepreneurship as well, literally everyone came as a team and it took a village in order to make this win,” Rampulla said.
Her loved ones were also by her side, cheering her on throughout the entire competition. Both of her parents, her boyfriend and some of her friends were there from start to finish, supporting her the whole way through.
“Everything she did was about women and women’s safety and I’m proud of her for her accomplishment, but I’m also proud that she’s thinking of other women. She’s thinking about her sisters being safe on campus. It’s not about Siena, it’s about everyone and I love the fact that she thinks on such a global scale,” said Teresa Rampulla, Siena’s mother.
She is also proud of Rampulla for her proactivity and optimism about a situation that may have caused other students and women feel afraid to be at school.
“Someone else might take this negative and leave college or become reclusive… instead of being a victim she turned the negative into a positive and she created an app, not only to make herself feel safe, but for every other woman to have that same sense of security,” Teresa Rampulla said.
According to her father, David Rampulla, “Siena has been working toward this since she was 12 years old.”
Rampulla’s enterprising spirit is being recognized with PULLATracker, but she has been giving pitches to business people and participating in leadership activities since she was a preteen.
“She just puts her heart and soul into everything and if you know her, you know she leaves nothing on the table,” David Rampulla said.
As Siena and the PULLATracker team continue to develop the app in its final stages, Rampulla emphasized that women’s safety is her top priority and will continue to be, which is why the app is set to launch this August.
“If I have PULLATracker and I have a pink logo that’s girly but it stands for protection, I want to be that signage that is for women and stands for women’s safety,” Rampulla said.
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