On Saturday, February 21, six student teams competed for $7,000 in start-up funds in a Shark Tank-style business pitch competition dubbed NU Launch! Judging the event were Catherine Collins, Vice President for Entrepreneur Development at the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies and four members of the Board of Fellows from the School of Business & Management (SBM).
Collins along with Ken Johnston ’82, Andrew Bannon ’96, Anthony (Tony) Agnitti ’84, Robert (Bob) Bleimeister and Norwich Leadership Giving Officer Hilary Davis ’09 listened to each team’s 15-minute presentation, asked follow up questions and provided feedback and advice to students. The judges then adjourned to deliberate over the most difficult task: how to divide up the prize money. This was not easy as each business was as unique as the student teams who pitched them.
The judges decided to split the $7,000 in available seed money among what they felt were the three strongest pitches. The judges aimed to provide enough funding to each of the three selected ventures to enable the student teams to accomplish at least one or two of the goals laid out in their business plans.Board of Fellows Vice Chair Andrew Bannon presented a check for $3,300 and a large crystal trophy for Most Likely to Launch to the YETi team. Two electrical and computer engineering students, Joshua Coleman ’16 and James Whitlock ’16, partnered with their former NU classmate and current Vermont Technical College student, Joseph Poulima, to create the Yeti project board. The device is designed to “bridge the gap between conceptual model design and finished product” for the ever-growing maker market. Coleman, Whitlock and Poulima are developing a project board for technical hobbyists that is interchangeable and compatible for use with 3D-printed parts. The Yeti group sought funding to cover the costs of prototyping and an initial production run so they could begin consumer testing the product. The Best Pitch trophy along with a check for $2,700 was awarded to mechanical engineering students Channing Favreau ’18 and Braeden Ostepchuk ’18, civil engineering student Tyler Jones ’18 and electrical engineering student Zach Poole ’18, who showcased their unique sport shaker bottle. Dubbed the Shaker Breaker, it is designed to carry, dispense and mix supplements and fluids. With a rough prototype in hand, the group developed their product in response to their own observations about the shortcomings of shaker bottles currently on the market. The Shaker Breaker group identified the active athlete as their target market and received promising feedback from other manufacturers. The team was looking to fund the development of a manufacturing mold for small-scale production. This will enable them to conduct market research and hopefully find a company to partner with for large scale production.
Finally, Jacob Keasbey ’17, a civil and environmental engineering major, received $1,000 in funding for his company, R & W Algal Management, and a crystal trophy for Most Innovative Idea. Keasbey presented his unique solutions to the multiple problems created by agricultural runoff, making containing runoff not only economical, but possibly profitable as well. Keasbey is ready to begin building a prototype on his family’s farm in upstate New York and sought funding for materials as well as hardware and software to analyze data. In presenting Jacob with his award, Board of Fellows Chair Ken Johnston also added that he would connect Jacob with engineers and data analysis resources from GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc., where Johnston serves as chief administrative officer.
NU Launch! was developed by Electrical and Computer Engineering Lecturer David Feinauer and School of Business & Management Director and Associate Professor of Economics Najiba Benabess to support students to develop and fund of their business ideas, from concept through start-up. Funded with a generous grant from VentureWell, formerly known as the National Collegiate Inventors and Innovators Alliance, the NU Launch! program included a series of workshops conducted in the four months prior to the final pitch competition. Over 50 students participated in the workshop series. Eleven students with various CoPS majors comprised the six teams that made the cut to participate in the business pitch Competition.
MORE GOOD NEWS: As part of the School of Business and Management’s efforts to promote Entrepreneurship for students across all academic disciplines at Norwich University, Director Najiba Benabess selected NU Launch! winners Team YETi to represent Norwich at the 5th annual TCU Richards Barrentine Values and Ventures student business plan competition to be held at Texas Christian University’s Neeley Entrepreneurship Center on April 10 – 11.
For the first time, Norwich University will participate in this annual competition for undergraduate students around the world in which students pitch plans for for-profit values-centered enterprises. This international competition epitomizes the Neeley School’s mission – to develop ethical leaders with a global perspective who help shape the business environment – by encouraging student entrepreneurs to develop for-profit enterprises that impact society in meaningful ways.
Faculty from the School of Business & Management are helping James Whitlock and Josh Coleman, electrical and computer engineering juniors at Norwich, and Joe Poulima, a former NU undergrad and current electrical engineering technology major at VTC, hone their presentation for their business concept, the YETi project board.