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Business-pitch contestants learn and earn credits

02.23.16
By: Mark Tarnacki
business pitch team

The Saint Michael's team was Sophia Caravella, Zack Maroon and Alex Colletta, seen here presenting before a panel of judges at the statewide collegiate competition in Burlington on Feb. 19.

At the initiative of faculty from Business Administration & Accounting, Saint Michael’s College in November hosted the campus’s first “Pitch Your Passion Innovative Idea Challenge.”

Primarily it was a motivator for students to develop strong entrepreneurial skills as they vied to be the top campus team that would represent Saint Michael’s in a statewide “LaunchVT Collegiate” competition in Burlington that took place February 19. The Challenge was a big educational and motivational success, says organizer Karen Popovich, associate professor/chair of business administration and accounting, who explained how the on-campus competition phase worked:

In November, a student panel heard 21 pitches from student teams or individuals and narrowed that to a “Top 10.”  Next, an external panel consisting of two Saint Michael’s top administrators and two alumni selected a “Top 3” for cash prizes of $1,500, $1,000 and $750. Panelists were Sarah Kelly, vice president for enrollment and marketing, Bill Anderson, chief information officer, and alumni Christian Miner M’04 from the old MSA program and Angela Cote M’05 from the graduate education program.

For the Saint Michael’s competition in November/December, the first place “Campus Connect” team consisted of Zack Maroon, Sophia Caravella and Alex Colletta, all from the class of 2018. After winning on campus, they spent months since November preparing for LaunchVT Collegiate, which is a 10-minute pitch competition among nine Vermont colleges and universities. Participating in Friday’s Burlington competition were Champlain College, Norwich College, Castleton University, Lyndon State College, University of Vermont, Vermont Technical College, Middlebury College, Johnson State College and Saint Michael’s.

Each participating college sponsored the event with $1,000, and additional sponsors included the Vermont Small Business Development Center, Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, and BTV Ignite.

Friday’s statewide competition was at Champlain College. “Our team worked tirelessly to cultivate their idea, design the graphics, research development costs and market potential, and assess potential revenue and cost streams,” Popovich said. “They worked over their semester break, and each has registered for a two -credit independent study supervised by business professors Robert Letovsky, Joanne Scott and me this semester.”

“Campus Connect’s” winning idea for the Saint Michael’s competition was an app designed to fill the gap between the services that a college is providing for its students and the services being demanded by that college's student body. Each school that uses the app would have their own specific set of features that are tailored to the needs of their students, explained team member Alexander Colletta.

Part of the winning team’s independent study requirement also is to present to a BU 103 Managerial Ethics class as an effort to demonstrate exceptional team work, effective communication skills and to foster entrepreneurial growth to new business majors and minors, Popovich said.

The two statewide-contest winners/finalists at LaunchVT Collegiate Feb. 19 were:

Second place for $2,500, a mobile app to incentivize drivers to not text and drive called JoyRyde by a senior from Middlebury College; and first place for $7,500, a prototype of a custom-molded mouse for video gamers, Thermouse, by a team from Champlain College, making them eligible for the larger overall LaunchVT competition in May (entry deadline March 9). The winner of that competition, which includes non-college entrepreneurs, earns a $25,000 cash prize plus approximately $45,000 in business services (legal, accounting, web development, marketing, etc.). All the last three winners at that level were college age or recent graduates, according to the LaunchVT website.

Teams sought to answer these questions: What is your business idea? Does it solve a problem? For whom? How does your business idea work? How does it fit in today's market? What makes this idea unique from the competition? How will you execute? .How do you plan to use the prize money to advance your business idea?

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