$10,000 Prize Awarded in University's Student Pitch Contest

Event is culmination of entrepreneurship students' curriculum

Photo: Mike Peters

The winning team members of Sport Your Sole.

It was a fashion item for the bottom of shoes that rose to the top to win the $10,000 prize in the first-ever student pitch competition at Montclair State University.

The five students on the winning team, Sport Your Sole, will split the $10,000 award in the TeleBrands Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs held May 13 on campus. Some students plan to invest the money in the business while others plan to put their award toward student loans.

“It was a great way to tie the whole journey together,” said Mac Krauss, a junior Psychology major on the winning team. “It was a nice culmination to all the hard work.”

The event was presented by the university’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship, housed in the School of Business but open to all students. The 18 students competing on four teams were pitching a product or service they had created and refined during two semesters of work in entrepreneurship courses (ENTR 201, 301 and 302). The pitch competition was the final step in the students’ completion of the center’s 9-credit Certificate of Entrepreneurship.

AJ Khubani, president and CEO of TeleBrands and a Montclair State alumnus, was the lead judge for the competition and the major sponsor of the event. The judging panel also included TV pitch personalities Anthony “Sully” Sullivan and Cathy Mitchell.

When he announced the winner, Khubani said the judges had narrowed their choice to two teams:  Sport Your Sole and Interviewnomics, a service to help job seekers interview better. Sport Your Sole seemed to have the edge with the judges because they had already sold their product to students and alumni at Montclair State, helping to validate their product and business model.

“That caught my attention, big time,” said Sullivan about the on-campus sales success.

Khubani said he thought the four teams presented extremely professionally, and that he enjoyed being the lead judge at his alma mater.

“It’s great to come back to your school and to be recognized—all kinds of attachments and nostalgia,” said Khubani.

Khubani ate lunch with the five students on the Sport Your Sole team, offering advice about how the team can advance its business. The winning students found the one-hour lunch with Khubani priceless.

“It was invaluable,” said Caroline Regan, a nondegree undergrad who came up with the idea for Sport Your Sole’s product. “He’s already sat there and thought about it. There is no one else who can do it properly, than him.”

The Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship’s courses provide experiential learning that simulate a yearlong entrepreneurial journey with seed capital, classroom mentors and a real payoff—the $10,000 prize—for a successful idea that is pitched well. 

“We achieved what we set out to achieve, which is to create an authentic entrepreneurial journey for each student. Seeing the students work so hard in the final weeks to perfect their business model and their pitch confirmed to me that this was a real entrepreneurial experience for them,” said Dennis Bone, director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship.

The hands-on, immersive nature of the entrepreneurship courses has been well received by the students.

“It’s a real-world setting, inside the classroom,” said Kelly Stanckiewitz, a senior Management major on the winning team. The other two members of the Sport Your Sole team are senior Rory Collins and sophomore Paetur I'Skemmuni, both Management majors.

Even students who didn’t go home with a piece of the $10,000 prize found the pitch competition and entrepreneurship courses invaluable.

“Although I didn’t win today, I definitely walk away feeling like a winner, an entrepreneur,” said Gabrielle Gonzalez, a senior Management major on the Gladiator team, which had developed a fitness app. “This course is just eye-opening. The experience is irreplaceable.”

Victor Agurto, a sophomore Finance major on the Interviewnomics team, said, “It’s very useful, because we were able to learn, able to overcome a lot of challenges. It strengthens your core.”
 
The fourth team was TouchStart, which developed a service to connect small businesses with consultants.

Students on multiple teams said the biggest challenge was scheduling team meetings to work on their business idea outside class while juggling schoolwork, jobs and other responsibilities. Several students talked about late nights and lost sleep as they made final changes to their pitch presentations to prepare for the TeleBrands Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs.

Those long hours may be the most real aspect of the students’ entrepreneurial experience. During his opening remarks, Khubani talked about his journey, which began with starting a business while at Montclair State. He also shared with the audience of about 150 people the lessons he has learned as an entrepreneur, including the long hours required.

“I’ve worked harder and longer than I ever thought possible,” said Khubani. “Your business will preoccupy your mind 24 hours, seven days a week. … You wouldn’t want it any other way.”

Want to compete in the 2015 TeleBrands Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs? You must complete ENTR 201, 301 and 302, and can start by enrolling in ENTR 201 for fall 2014. Only two seats open. If ENTR 201 is full, contact sharon.waters@montclair.edu to get on the waiting list.