Judges watching student pitches at the 2022 Pirates Pitch Startup Competition
Seton Hall University staged in its own version of Shark Tank on April 5 when student entrepreneurs presented their business concepts or existing ventures to a judging panel at the 2022 Pirates Pitch Startup Competition.
Sponsored by the Stillman School of Business Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the contest awarded more than $16,000 in investment seed funding to the six finalists. John Fanta '17, a sportscaster with Fox Sports Network, served as Master of Ceremonies at the virtual event.
Joyce Strawser, dean of the Stillman School of Business, was proud of the student entrepreneurs, stating: "Our twelfth annual Pirates Pitch Startup Competition was a fantastic demonstration of the strength of our Seton Hall entrepreneurship community. Student finalists – all solo entrepreneurs this year – presented projects that spanned the range of the startup lifecycle, with several pitches focused on nascent business concepts while others centered on already established enterprises. Our judges, dedicated alumni and friends of Stillman, provided excellent feedback and guidance to all competitors, delivering value to all who participated. It was an exceptional learning experience."
MBA student Jon Soyka spoke about his thriving startup business Air Gardens at Pirates Pitch contest
All finalists received funding for their projects, with M.B.A student Jonathan Soyka taking home $10,000, the largest award, for Air Garden Inc., a year-old startup utilizing aeroponics to grow vegetables and greens that are less costly than conventional produce. Soyka impressed the judges with his proprietary aeroponics system that produces tomatoes and other vegetables, unlike most other aeroponics systems that are limited to growing leafy greens and herbs. "Pirates Pitch was great learning experience," Soyka said. "The process was enjoyable and all the teams did an excellent job."
Jae Morris, a senior studying biology, pitched her recently launched hair care startup Back2Roots
Jae Morris, a senior studying biology, secured $5,000 for Back2Roots, a hair care company that she recently launched to promote hair growth and length retention. Morris said her company differs from competitors because it educates customers about proper hair care and will donate a portion of profits to marginalized communities. Morris also won the $500 Audience Choice Award. Morris stated: "My participation in Pirates Pitch was an exciting experience that showed me I am capable of doing whatever I set my mind to doing."
Elias Burgos, a sophomore studying sports management, pitched EB Sports Management, an agency he recently launched to represent professional and collegiate athletes. Lauren Huff, a graduate student pursuing a M.S. degree in business analytics, presented her business model for Entice Engine, a software application she is designing to enable clothing and other retailers to individualize sales customer promotions. Meanwhile, Henrik Pettersson, a sophomore majoring in biology and philosophy presented his idea for Shōbai Global ("Show & Buy") an internet marketplace for the fashion industry based on blockchain technologies. Lastly, Alvin Mitchell, a senior studying economics, explained how his proposed startup, Jiffy Technologies, can fill a market niche for small businesses seeking fast and reliable shipping to local customers.
The student entrepreneurs will also receive pro bono legal services from the event's legal sponsor, Santomassimo Davis LLP, a law firm located in Parsippany. Anthony Davis, partner at Santomassimo Davis said: "Judging from this year's event, the entrepreneurial spirit is clearly thriving at Seton Hall University. It's always refreshing to work with these bright, ambitious students, and we wouldn't miss the opportunity for the world. We're thrilled to be able to guide them on their journey with sound legal advice in every aspect of their business."
Susan Scherreik, Director of the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, said that Pirates Pitch is the centerpiece of the university's vibrant ecosystem of resources available to student entrepreneurs. She noted that contest finalists are invited to participate in the Pirates LaunchPad Summer Accelerator. The eight-week program provides student entrepreneurs with $2,000 in seed investment funding.
During the competition, the judges shared how impressed they were with the caliber of the students’ ideas and their poise during the question-and-answer sessions. Ahead of the event, the finalists submitted five-page business plans and video presentations to the judges as part of their evaluations.
Serving as judges were: Bryan Jakovcic '09, President and Owner, Fusion Health; Pravina Raghavan '01, Director of the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) in the U.S. Department of Commerce National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST); Abe Kasbo '94 '99, CEO Verasoni Worldwide; Lara Kanjo '05, Assurance Partner, Ernst & Young; and Ben Lowe, an entrepreneur and adjunct entrepreneurship professor.
"Pirates Pitch 2022 brought the most promising entrepreneurs together in one event that showcased the businesses they are building from the ground up," said Jakovcic. "I am humbled to be selected again as a judge, and to do so alongside such other amazing individuals within the Seton Hall community. A key principle of entrepreneurship, iteration, was on clear display at the Pirates Pitch competition. "I look forward to the continuation of this amazing and watching these impressive startups flourish into organizations that become industry disruptors."
Kanjo, who serves as the Ernst & Young NJ Entrepreneur of the Year Program Co-Director, added: "The students that participated in the Pirates Pitch displayed incredible entrepreneurial spirit. Their passion and motivation to achieve great things was inspiring. The students had innovative ideas and solutions to solve some of the challenges we face in the world today while having a significant impact on our communities. I look forward to following their stories as they continue to pursue their dreams."
Raghavan, who has served as a contest judge several times, commented: "Pirates Pitch encapsulates the entrepreneur spirit of all pirates. Every year I am always amazed at how the applicants keep getting better and better. This is my favorite event of the year."
To learn more about student entrepreneurs and their startup ideas, visit the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship website. For more information about the Pirates LaunchPad Accelerator, contact Director Scherreik at Susan.Scherreik-Hynes@shu.edu.