Startup Pitch Competition puts students' work to the test

May 2018

Jay Murdock

Most people would agree that it’s not easy to sum up 14 weeks of work in just eight minutes.

But 13 teams of students had just that long to convince judges at the Spring Startup Pitch Competition that their business plan had merit.

“Students start with a problem, look at who is impacted by it to get a sense of the addressable market, they explore different ways to solve it, develop a conceptual model around a particular solution, explore strategies for acquiring customers, then they build a launch plan that demonstrates to investors how they would build a business around that solution,” Dr. Tim Holcomb explains.

The judges that the students faced weren’t other students or faculty, but more than 40 venture capitalists, angel investors, accelerator directors, founders, and other members of the startup ecosystem.

“I just love the interaction with the students, the ideas that they have. They don’t have any narrative around something’s not possible. So everything’s possible to them, which is great,” Bookworks’ Scott Miller said. “I think the challenge for people like me that have seen stuff is to not disabuse them of that notion, not throw too much cold water on their ideas.”

“This is close to the real deal. The only thing that would be closer is if the investors brought their checkbooks,” Holcomb noted.

In four rooms, groups pitched their ideas and took questions from small groups of judges, who voted on their favorites. The top five teams advanced to the finals, where they pitched again in front of all of the judges.

As the votes were tallied, each judge took a moment to talk to the students and give them some advice.

“I think you guys should all go work for ‘The Man’,” Miller said. “Take their money, put it in the bank -- but have a side hustle immediately. Work for them 9 to 5, come home, take the money, and then really go to work.”

“Think about what your edge is, what’s your edge in the market? If you have someone in your squad that can program AI, that’s an edge. If you have a rich uncle that loves fermented tea? That’s an edge,” FTN Financial’s Jay Morelock remarked. “The edge you all have, above everybody here, is you’re millennials, and you know your demographic.”

“Investors will know if you believe in what you’re selling or not. So if you don’t have that passion, it’s going to show. If you don’t, move on to something else, something that you do have passion for,” Dabbl’s Shachar (Shock) Torem noted.

In first place, the judges selected Retooled, a startup that would buy and sell used tools, targeting mechanics who often must supply their own tool sets to work.

Second place went to Stella, which planned to create and sell a stainless-steel container to keep cooked food warm until lunchtime.

DineIn, a service that would provide personal chefs to customers to cook food for dinner parties in the customers’ homes, placed third.

Holcomb was quick to point out that while it was a competition, the overall goal wasn’t to come in first.

“The objective is not to pick a winner. The objective is to give students a sense for how they have to position a story about this problem that’s being solved for a target audience, and do it in a way that convinces investors that they’ve thought through the steps necessary to build a business around that problem-solution fit.”

Team makes presentation at Startup Pitch Competition Judges listen to presentation at Startup Pitch Competition Part of Retooled team makes presentation at StartUp Pitch Competition Team makes presentation at StartUp Pitch Competition Industry judge talks to students and faculty at StartUp Pitch Competition Group shot of teams and judges at StartUp Pitch Competition