Three student teams won $10,000 in prizes, plus professional services in Pirates Pitch 2017, the seventh annual Seton Hall University Venture Fund Competition.
At the contest, which is sponsored by the Stillman School's Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, five student teams pitched ideas either to start a business, or to expand an existing student-run venture. These teams consisted of Kyle Hilliard and William Sayegh, with their idea Sports Amor Innovations; Anthony Laverde with RePhone; TJ Merighi and Ian Campbell with CampusGo; David Webster with Divvi; and Anthony Woodard with BUBLS/ Shelf-Stable Bubble Tea.
"I am so proud of our finalists! This year's pitches were among the best
that we've seen, in terms of both the quality of the business plans and
the creativity of their presentations. It's clear that our student
competitors benefited from the input and guidance of the program's
mentors. I look forward to seeing what these aspiring entrepreneurs will
achieve," said Joyce Strawser, dean of the Stillman School of
David Webster, a senior marketing major, won the $6,000 first place award for Divvi, an idea for a cross-platform social messaging app to enhance coordination among groups and teams. When asked about his experience in the competition, Webster said: "It's one thing to have a vision, but to see other people get behind it and believe in that vision is a special feeling. Pirates Pitch has given me momentum to move forward, and helped to close the gap between having an idea and actually pursuing it." Webster continued: "After I graduate in May, I plan on enrolling in a three-month, intensive program in software development. I plan to use the skills from this program to build the initial version of Divvi, and hopefully have it available for trial by the fall." Webster added that he will invest the prize money from the contest in his fledgling startup.
Anthony Laverde, a freshman in the Stillman School of Business, won the $3,500 second place award for RePhone LLC. Laverde, who is from California, started the cell phone screen repair business last year when he was in high school. RePhone uses unique machinery to refurbish cracked cell phone screens. Laverde developed a plan for the contest to expand his business. "Placing second in the contest really made me believe in myself," Laverde said. "Being a freshman and having the judges think my business was as good as the others really inspires me to work even harder as an entrepreneur," he added.
Thomas J (TJ) Merighi and Ian Campbell, seniors in the Stillman School, snagged the $500 Audience Choice Award for CampusGo, a bike rental service for expansive college campuses. "Ian and I worked endlessly to ensure that every detail of our business plan and presentation was perfect. The semifinal and final round not only strengthen your passion for entrepreneurship, but also help you to make connections, improve your presentation skills, and greatly aid you in your path to becoming a young business professional," said Merighi.
"This is truly the Shark Tank generation," says Susan Scherreik, founding director of the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies. "Seton Hall students are passionate about creating businesses to solve the problems they see around them. They have a can-do spirit and relish figuring out how to launch a startup." She added, "Pirates Pitch, which is open to all students at the University, is a terrific forum for showcasing our student talent in entrepreneurship and innovation. It allows students to launch their business ideas in the real world while benefiting from intense mentorship and support from Seton Hall."
A Panel of Prestigious Judges
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: Pat Cozza, a partner at One-to-One Corporate Finance; Jim DiPietropolo, founder and managing partner, Adison Partners; Ray Hoffman, host and producer, CEO Radio, WCBS Radio AM 880; Angela A. Iuso, partner, Connell Foley; Erin Miu, staff accountant, Miu & Co.; and Gary Wolfe, founder and CEO, Wolfe Roofing & Sheet Metal Inc.
"It was a really rewarding event," said Gary Wolfe. "The students all did a very nice job."
"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.
Previous Pirates Pitch Winners
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, Stillman Junior Ryan Skolnick, who won Pirates Pitch in 2015, and also was a winner in UPitchNJ 2016, a new collegiate business model competition involving 12 universities in New Jersey; he won 2nd place for his business AVEHO. Three 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 two years ago, the University launched a high school student version of Pirates Pitch. In the two years that the contest has operated, there were more than 500 applications from in the U.S. and foreign countries.
New Business School Major in Entrepreneurship
Thanks to the exploding interest is entrepreneurship education, and the increasingly important role that entrepreneurship is playing in the economy, the Stillman School of Business plans to launch an entrepreneurship concentration in the fall. "Whether students opt to start a new venture, or work for a large corporation, they need to be innovative self-starters," Scherreik said.