In Seton Hall’s own version of “Shark Tank,” two students who are launching business startups won $10,000 in prizes and business services at Pirates Pitch 2016, the sixth annual Seton Hall University Venture Fund Competition.
At the contest, held on April 8 in Jubilee Hall Auditorium, five student teams pitched ideas either to start a business, or to expand an existing student-run venture. These teams consisted of Dominique Fortes with her idea of Advise Me College Consulting; Austin Lopez, Justin Hernandez, and Karan Patel with SeekVehic; Selene Presseller with HorsesDr.com; Shaaliyah Lyons with Together We Conquer Life Skills Basketball Camp; and Christian Zeron with Theo & Harris.
Christian Zeron, a senior in the Catholic Studies program, won the $6,000 first place award for Theo and Harris, a vintage watch online venture, which he started a year ago. Zeron also snagged the $500 Audience Choice Award. When asked about his experience in the competition, Zeron stated, “"I'm incredibly grateful for this opportunity to invest in my business and make Seton Hall proud. I will not treat this funding as a gift or 'found money', it's an investment."
Shaaliyah Lyons, a junior in the Stillman School of Business, won the $3,500 second place award for Together We Conquer Life Skills Basketball Camp, a summer program targeting inner-city high school athletes “I have been working on the non-profit part of my business idea since the summer of 2015 and I have been working on the basketball operations portion since my freshman year,” she states. “This was an extremely humbling experience for me and it was definitely a learning experience.” She states that the money will be going to fund a location and necessary equipment for the camp.
“Interest in entrepreneurship is exploding on college campuses and Seton Hall University is no exception,” says Susan Scherreik, founding Director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. Pirates Pitch, which is open to all students at the University, is a terrific forum for showcasing our student talent in entrepreneurship and innovation, Scherreik notes. “The competition allows students to launch their business ideas in the real world while benefiting from intense mentorship and support from Seton Hall,” she added.
At the Finalist competition, the five student teams were given 10 minutes to “pitch” their original business idea to a panel of prestigious judges. The panel of judges included: Sunny Bathla, founder, OSB Consulting, vice-president, Virtusa; Ray Hoffman, host and producer, CEO Radio, WCBS Radio AM 880; Shannon Morris, president, Sigma Group, Taseen Peterson, the founder of Notefuly and past Pirates Pitch winner; and Kimberly Weisul, Inc.com, Editor- at- large at Inc. magazine. In addition to presentations and written business plans, the students were evaluated on creative and innovative thinking about markets, products and services, as well as the students’ perceived ability to execute the idea and turn it into a viable, profitable business, and/or venture with significant social value.
“It is always inspiring to hear a great idea, but even more so to see the effort, pursuit and passion that these students pour into their presentations. All of the contestants should be commended for their work ethic and commitment, alongside what I believe were some truly innovative and unique concepts” said Shannon Morris.
Joyce Strawser, the dean of the Stillman School of Business, said of the competition, “I was so proud to see the high quality of the pitches – both in terms of the concept development and the actual presentation of the idea. It was clear that the teams had put a great deal of effort into researching their markets and evaluating opportunities and potential pitfalls, and the students were able to respond thoughtfully to the questions posed by the judges. In all, it was a fantastic day for entrepreneurship at SHU!”
“Pirates Pitch isn’t just regarded as a shot to win thousands of dollars. It is also about making great connections and getting exposure for your business,” Scherreik said.
Students who have won awards in Pirates Pitch have gone on to win additional awards in regional and national collegiate business model competitions. These include, most recently, Finalist Selene Presseller and her startup idea HorsesDr.com, being named a winner in the Newark Innovation Challenge competition hosted by the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Shaaliyah Lyons, who placed second in this year’s Pirates Pitch competition, was a Finalist in the Newark Innovation Challenge. Additionally, both Stillman Sophomore Ryan Skolnick, who won Pirates Pitch in 2015, along with Presseller, separately placed in the semi-final round of the 2016 national Student Startup Madness Competition. Recently, Skolnick also won at UPitchNJ, a new collegiate business model competition involving 12 universities in New Jersey; he won 2nd place for his business AVEHO. Two years ago, Pirates Pitch winner Taseen Peterson ’14, was the national winner in the Student Startup Madness competition and his venture, Notefuly, was named by Inc. magazine as one of the nation’s coolest college startups.
Moreover, Pirates Pitch has been so successful that last November, a version was launched for high school students, and the contest garnered strong interest. There were over 250 applications from 27 states and two foreign countries. This version of Pirates Pitch will be held annually as well.