Three Montclair State entrepreneurship students were finalists in a national pitch competition held at Purdue University April 18.
The team of three seniors–Ryan Afflitto, Jacqueline Busichio and Jessica Weinberg–were in the top 5 in the “tech and other” category in The Big Sell contest. The students had to apply to be chosen to pitch, one of only 50 teams selected.
Each team was given two minute to “pitch,” or make a persuasive argument, about why their idea is a viable product that customers would want to buy. More than 300 people were in the audience to hear the pitches, according to the students, and the crowd determined the first cut of team to move onto the finals. On the final vote, five judges selected the top two winners in the “tech and other” category, with the audience vote serving as a sixth judge.
Ryan Afflitto, 22, was the one who did the actual pitch to the crowd of more than 300 people, with Weinberg and Busichio standing by for support.
“Your heart was beating. It was a thrill,” said Afflitto about the experience. “When we got into the product features, you could hear the oohs and aahs.”
The students’ company name is All-Star Tailgates, and their product is The Pregamer, a cooler that has an 8-foot adjustable and portable table used for outdoor games such as beer pong, flip cup, corn hole, etc.
It was stiff competition at the Purdue event with developed companies pitching, according to the students.
“You can tell they’ve pitched many times before an audience,” said Afflitto, a marketing major who is COO of All-Star Tailgates.
Yet the students felt they, and their product, were unusual among the competitors, which included a lot of medical and health care products.
“We definitely stood out as a fun group promoting tailgating, while we were competing against stem cell research,” said Weinberg, 22, a women and gender studies major who is CEO of All-Star Tailgates.
The experience helped the students learn what next steps to take with their startup idea, said Busichio, who is a general humanities major and CMO of All-Star Tailgates. They are now working on raising money to create a prototype of The Pregamer.
“It would change everything completely,” said Busichio about having a prototype. “We need to move forward and that would be a stepping stone for us.”
The students began their entrepreneurial journey in the Feliciano Center’s entrepreneurship courses. The Feliciano Center is part of the School of Business. All three have completed the center’s Certificate of Entrepreneurship. The three students will be pitching at the Feliciano Center’s annual on-campus pitch competition at the University Hall 7th floor conference center on May 6, 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. The contest, TeleBrands Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs, offers a $10,000 prize to the winning student team, thanks to funding from AJ Khubani, a Montclair State alumnus and president and CEO of TeleBrands. Nine other student teams from the Certificate of Entrepreneurship program will be participating in the contest.
The entrepreneurship professors have been impressed with what All-Star Tailgates has achieved, including overcoming obstacles.
“These students have worked really hard on their idea,” said Dr. Ross Malaga. “They originally had another ideas, but soon found it was already patented so their beer pong cooler is actually their second or third concept. They’ve really put time and effort into getting some high quality 3D designs and renderings which makes their pitch very effective.”
Jason Frasca, another ENTR professor, said, “Midway through the semester this team had to pivot into the Beer Pong Cooler as a result of their first two ideas infringing on patents. This only seemed to stoke their entrepreneurial fire as they have become more passionate about their idea as time has moved on. They have worked the Business Model Canvas and used all the resources (seed money) available to them to gain a competitive advantage over the other student teams they are competing against in the pitch competition. They have shown great determination this spring semester.”
All-Star Tailgates already knows how they will spend the $10,000 TeleBrands contest prize if they win on May 6: they will invest the money in creating a prototype of The Pregamer.
The Big Sell competition at Purdue can be an excellent launching point for a startup, the students said. One of last year’s winners recently signed a distribution contract with a major retailer for his product.
Afflitto said all the time spent in and out of the classroom working on All-Star Tailgates will be worth it if they can make the startup a success.
“(The goal is) to create a business where I don’t have to stay in a cubicle the rest of my life,” Afflitto said.
The students are running a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to cover their travel expenses to the Purdue competition.