In a pitch contest of 11 New Jersey universities, Montclair State’s student team placed third behind only Princeton (first place) and Seton Hall (second place).
The eight other universities participating in UPitchNJ were: Drew, Fairleigh Dickinson, NJIT, Rider, Rutgers, Saint Peter’s, Steven’s and William Paterson.
“I was super honored to be pitching … and as soon as I saw the quality of the first and second place winners, it made me feel confident that we were in that arena,” said Christi Himiob, a junior and Spanish Translation major, who is a cofounder of the Montclair State team, Karuda. “This confirms our belief that no matter what your passion is there is a market for it.”
Karuda, which also includes Larissa Elvers and Sacha Vincent, manufactures and sells a line of coconut-based beauty products such as hand cream, deodorant and makeup remover. BoxPower, Princeton’s first-place winner led by senior Angelo Campus and junior Aaron Schwartz, makes a renewable energy power box that has received a $90,000 grant from the EPA and is in discussions with the Navajo Nation about use of its product. AVEHO, Seton Hall’s second-place team led by sophomore Ryan Skolnick, is creating a video-game format to teach foreign languages to elementary and high school students.
UPitchNJ, the state’s first-ever collegiate pitch competition, was held April 15 at Rutgers business school. Princeton has agreed to host the 2017 UPitchNJ contest. The competition was sponsored by the New Jersey Collegiate Entrepreneurship Consortium, which represents the entrepreneurship education programs at New Jersey’s four-year colleges and universities.
The 2016 judges were: astronaut and serial entrepreneur Greg Olsen; Caren Franzini, formerly with the New Jersey Economic Development Authority; Betty Manetta, CEO of Argent Associates; Anthony Frasier, co-founder of The Phat Startup; and Marty Johnson, CEO of Isles, Inc. Melissa Orsen, CEO of the NJ Economic Development Authority, delivered a keynote to kick off the event.
Asked what set Karuda’s presentation apart from others, Frasier said, “It was just more impressive. They were hustlers, in a very positive sense of the word.”
Frasier added he liked that Karuda had actual customers who have been buying their products, and noted that the Karuda students answered every question he had during the pitch.
“Their pitch was very on point. It was a very solid pitch. They just won by the numbers,” said Frasier, referencing the score sheet judges completed for each team.
Manetta, who called Karuda “one of the most professional” teams, noted that Karuda was the only all-women team at UPitchNJ. “That shows the power of women,” Manetta said.
Frasier said the gender makeup of Karuda was mentioned only at the end of judging. “The fact that it was all women was an afterthought. They will go far.”
Karuda won $500, which it plans to reinvest in its business, plus a coaching session with the New Jersey Innovation Acceleration Center at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. First prize for Princeton was $2,500, plus a coaching luncheon with Olsen, founder of GHO Ventures, which focuses on angel investing, and a 30-minute Skype coaching session with Andy Tang, CEO, Draper University and managing director, DFJ DragonFund. Second prize for Seton Hall was $1,000, plus a coaching breakfast with Mario Casabona, founder and managing director, TechLaunch, a technology and business accelerator.
Each student team had a table during the event to demonstrate their products or distribute literature about their service.
“I think the most surprising part of being part of the process was how enjoyable it was to talk with people visiting our demo table and being able to warm up to them. It certainly relaxed the atmosphere and lessened my nervousness,” said Elvers, a senior about to graduate with a Child Advocacy and Policy degree. “I was also quite proud of our group for being the only public university to win a place, making us first place among public universities who participated.”
“My experience at UPitchNJ made me realize how fortunate we are to have the entrepreneur program at Montclair. We were very prepared and that wouldn’t be possible without the program,” said Vincent, a junior studying Finance. “We worked hard and it paid off.”