Four NYU Wagner teams are headed to the 300K Challenge Semifinals with their entrepreneurial innovations


You may not have heard of Sorty McSortFace yet, but one day it might help increase the recycling of commercial waste in New York City, a significant environmental and business objective.  

Then there’s motivote—another promising entrepreneurial idea. It is designed to raise young voter turnout around the country as early as the 2018 midterm congressional elections.

For the moment, Sorty McSortFace and motivote are two of four entrepreneurial innovations NYU Wagner students and alumni are helping to bring to life that will compete as semi-finalists in the $300K Entrepreneurs Challenge on April 6. The campus-wide accelerator program and startup competition by the W.R. Berkley Innovation Labs at NYU Stern features teams of students, alumni, faculty, and researchers from across the university’s global campuses.

This year, the entries from the NYU Wagner community reflect students’ skills tackling long-standing public challenges in actionable ways:

Sorty McSortFace

Amy Auton-Smith (EMPA 2018) and Paul Becker (EMPA 2018) are creating a text-analysis application to check for unfairness called FairFrame. It’s a web-based platform that enables users to identify and remove bias from written text, and access materials and resources on diversity, inclusion, and belonging.

An additional start-up concept with a Wagner imprint, Taqadam, aims to optimize technology and human intelligence to build quality datasets for AI, transforming a social challenge of youth unemployment and mass displacement in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to a market opportunity providing digital jobs. The Wagner team includes Karina Grosheva (MPA 2015), founder of Taqadam, and Sarah Aita (MUP 2019).


Motivote is a platform that seeks to boost young voter turnout and civic participation by making the voting process social, fun, and habit-forming. Users form teams, commit to voting, and remain engaged with gamified incentives and friendly competition. The Wagner students who created it includes Rachel Konowitz (MPA 2018), Adam Steinberg (MPA 2018), Jessica Riegel (MPA 2018), and Emily Meredith Graham (MPA 2018).

Sorty McSortFace, meanwhile, was created by a New York University team that includes NYU Wagner student Kevin Nguyen (MPA 2016). The self-sorting trash bin uses computer vision and machine learning to sort recyclable, non-recyclable, and compostable waste automatically into separate compartments.


“The experience has been really fun,” said Nguyen of the competition so far. What is more, he said, it’s an opportunity to advance the project’s “win-win” goal—to help New York City catch up with other leading cities’ rates of recycling for commercial waste, and help businesses lower their waste disposal costs.

“It was a no-brainer to enter the W. R. Berkley Innovation Labs Competition to build our case for New York City businesses to be at the forefront of NYC's transformation into a smart, sustainable city,” he said.

The $300K Entrepreneurs Challenge includes four rounds of competition judging, as well as a full slate of boot camps, clinics, and coaching sessions to help entrants bring their brainchild to the world. Good luck to the Wagner participants. Keep your fingers crossed that they make it to the finals, which are slated for May.