University of Delaware first-year students in this past fall’s Basics of Business courses embraced the entrepreneurial mindset at this year’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics 3-Minute Pitch Competition, with more than 130 freshmen student teams forming to present innovative ideas in the hopes that their products reach the final round.
In the end, only three teams took top honors at the competition held on Nov. 29, with products such as personalized virtual student tours, backpacks that prevent heat exhaustion and two-piece, half-aluminum and half-composite softball bats making the cut.
During the course of the competition, 11 final teams presented their new products and services to a room full of students, faculty and distinguished judges, in a format similar to the television show “Shark Tank.”
“It’s widely acknowledged that innovation and small businesses are the engines of the U.S. economy today,” Lerner College Dean Bruce Weber said. Referring to the course catalog coding, Weber said, “Lerner’s BUAD 110 course exposes our newest students to the discipline of new product design, and the essential aspect of communicating a compelling plan to meet a customer need and develop a market. I was excited to see the poised, well-prepared teams and impressed with the creativity on display.”
The distinguished panel of judges featured:
- Mona Parikh, managing director of Start It Up Delaware, Senior Director of Business Development for world-renowned design studio House Industries, and adjunct faculty at UD’s Horn Entrepreneurship program
- Ted Foltyn, a UD alumni, veteran healthcare industry consultant and adjunct faculty member for Horn Entrepreneurship
- Vincent DiFelice, entrepreneur with 30-year career experience launching over 24 companies, manager of Venture Support at Horn Entrepreneurship and assistant professor of practice in Lerner
During the presentations, DiFelice advised the teams, “You always want to look for a unique value as an entrepreneur. It comes from looking at the real problem. Take a look at existing solutions, and the difference between the two could lead to unique value.”
After almost two hours of pitch presentations, the judges deliberated and in the end, the three winning teams were announced.
Snoops, including team members Andrew Cercena, Matt Kaminstein, and Breanna Steele , created a service that provides high school students with virtual tours of college campuses from the comfort of their own homes. Snoops pairs students with college ambassadors who provide them with personalized tours of the colleges of their choice.
The Snoops team did a survey on campus and found that 80 percent of UD students said they would have used this if offered to them. What makes their service valuable, the team said, is that it is convenient, easy to use, cost effective and emphasizes users’ needs.
A Snoops user would create a profile, list their specific interests, and receive a one-on-one experience with a campus ambassador tour guide. With an affordable cost of $28 per hour for a tour, users can tour a college online from home if they cannot afford to travel across the country to the college. The team would also offer the services to colleges, in which case the universities would pay a subscription fee to be on Snoops, allowing them to expand their reach for recruitment.
In the end, the creators of Snoops said they want students make informed decisions on what school they want to attend.
The other winning team, Frost Black, offered a backpack attachment designed to reduce the effects of heat exhaustion. To keep cool from heat exhaustion, users would wear the backpack with gel packs inserted into the backpack attachment.
The team, made up of freshmen Declan McCarthy, Evan Gavalakis, Justin Kaufman, Michelle Nash and Rebecca Fleetwood, stated that Frost Black is highly customizable, coming in a range of sizes including small, medium and large. In addition, the backpack comes with multiple slots for gel packs so users can easily pick which areas to target.
During the presentation, the team identified their target audience as “outdoor enthusiasts such as bikers and hikers, and college students trying to beat the heat.” In terms of price, the backpack attachments range from $24 to $34 depending on the size, while the reusable gel packs are $9.99 each. The team also offers instant gel packs ranging from $9 to $12 for easier convenience.
Switch and Hit Softball Bat
Rounding out the top three were students Kaitlyn Deo, Matt O’Farrell, Che Shi, Carly Cao, who presented the Switch and Hit Softball bat. This two-piece softball bat is half aluminum and half composite, held together by a titanium screw that makes it easy to take apart and put together. The team’s target market, they said, are softball players at the high school and college levels.
“On average softball players have two to three bats they carry with them to games and they last about three seasons before they go dead,” a team member explained during the pitch. “But this product eliminates that and is a cheaper alternative.”
The product allows softball players to change their bat weight, making it cheaper and more convenient. The product price ranges from $180 to $210 depending on bat weight, while the grip costs $60.
DiFelice commended the team for creating a product that in his words, “Solved a problem close to you,” as one of the team members played softball.
Overall, judges and program leaders agreed that the pitch event was a success and a great learning opportunity for freshman.
For students interested in taking their products into the future, Parikh said, “The University of Delaware offers plenty of opportunities to observe pitch competitions and to be a part of pitch competitions.”
“The Horn Entrepreneurship Program especially holds events where people who’ve built successful companies educate and inform students,” Parikh said. “Horn resources are very unique and provide students with opportunities almost every week to get good at pitching, create a pitch deck and talk to real entrepreneurs about how they were able to be successful.”