With screams, leaps and hugs, the three women students who are Karuda Skincare celebrated as their team’s name was called May 4 as the winner of the third annual $10,000 TeleBrands Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs at Montclair State.
Larissa Elvers, Christiana Himiob and Sacha Vincent were clearly surprised that their team, which manufactures and sells coconut-oil-based skincare products, had won the university’s student pitch competition.
“I was in complete disbelief,” said Elvers, a senior majoring in Child Advocacy and Policy. “To know we have $10,000 to work with and move forward with just wow’ed me. I was speechless.”
Asked her initial thoughts when Karuda was announced as the winner, Himiob, said, “I can’t tell you, because it’s profane.” But then the Spanish Translation major, who is a junior, added: “My initial thought was just ‘Thank goodness.’ It felt really good. It really inspired me to pursue this even further.”
Vincent, a senior Finance major, said: “I was completely surprised and baffled because I saw how great the other teams were. They were amazing, every single one of them.”
The TeleBrands Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs is funded by AJ Khubani, a Montclair State alumnus who is CEO/president of TeleBrands. Karuda was one of six finalists in the afternoon round of pitches, after 16 student teams competed in the prelim round in the morning on May 4. The 16 teams spent two semesters pursuing the Feliciano Center’s Certificate of Entrepreneurship (a Minor in Entrepreneurship is now available). As part of the Center’s curriculum, students identify a real-world problem, brainstorm a solution, test their product/app/service with real customers, finance their business with seed capital raised as private money donated to the Center, and then learn how to pitch the business to investors—or the pitch competition’s panel of judges who are entrepreneurs. The seed capital for the 2015-2016 school year was donated by Guy Falzarano, president and CEO of Lightbridge Franchise Company.
“I think Karuda has shown what a team of people who like each other and get along can achieve,” said Prof. Ross Malaga, who taught Elvers, Himiob and Vincent in the advanced entrepreneurship courses of ENTR 301 and 302. “Of course it also comes with a great deal of hard work. Not only did they constantly work to refine their pitch, but they were out in the market selling their product and creating new products.”
Sales to customers was one thing that impressed the judges about Karuda. The judges for the final round of pitches were: Manish Israni, vice president of Market Research & New Product Acquisition at TeleBrands; Andrew R. Gatto, a former executive with Toys ‘R’ Us and Russ Berrie & Co.; and Marjorie Perry, president and CEO of MZM Construction & Management Co. Khubani usually serves as lead judge for the competition, but Israni filled in after Khubani needed to be overseas for business.
Anthony “Sully” Sullivan, the enthusiastic TV pitchman for OxiClean, served as the master of ceremonies for the final pitches.
The judges for the prelim round were: Rachel Braun Scherl, co-founder and principal of SPARK Solutions for Growth; Andrew Kangpan, associate at ff Venture Capital; Krishnamurty Kambhampati, serial entrepreneur; and Mukesh Patel, founder of JuiceTank.
The winning team can do whatever it wishes with the $10,000 prize money, and the teams that won the past two years decided to split the money among team members for their personal use. But Himiob, Elvers and Vincent asked for the $10,000 check to be made payable to Karuda so they can invest the money in the company, which was incorporated earlier this year. The women said they’d like to use the prize money to have their products professionally formulated and tested, which would allow them to produce and sell in large quantities.
The Karuda students thanked their professor, Malaga, for the guidance he provided.
“The whole program changed my life. Malaga changed my life. He’s one of those teachers,” said Himiob.
The pitch contest—and Feliciano Center entrepreneurship courses, in general—had an impact on other students too.
Lam Nguyen, a senior majoring in Management, said the pitch contest was an exciting experience, even though his team Trash Talk was a finalist but did not win. He said he walked away with something else, even if he didn’t get a slice of the cash prize.
“It brings me a lot more confidence in public speaking and how to work cooperatively with people. It’s truly defining teamwork for me for when I get into a corporate level of work,” Nguyen said. “I really learned that entrepreneurship is very hard. It’s never an easy road, but it’s exciting nonetheless.”
Prof. Jason Frasca, who also taught ENTR 301 and 302 and coached half of the student teams, said, “The overall quality of the students’ presentation was very impressive. They communicated on a high level the problems they were solving and the markets they were trying to disrupt. Year over year, the presentations have significantly improved, and all the students should be very proud of what they accomplished this year. I’m looking forward to seeing next year’s presentations.”
Although women are under-represented as entrepreneurs, four of the six teams that were finalists in Montclair State’s pitch contest had all women members. The Feliciano Center has a special mission to nurture and encourage women entrepreneurs, including students who aspire to have their own business someday.
The final-round judges cited Layrd as first runner-up. Layrd created a product that makes replacing the garbage bag a simple process. Layrd team members are: Michelle Carcamo, senior, Management; Rohkaya Fall, junior, Marketing; Alexa Golieb, senior, Theater Studies; and Latrece McKenzie, junior, Psychology.
The second runner-up team was Wake’Em Up, which created an alarm clock pillow, and consists of: Dana Egan, senior, Finance; Bryan High, senior, Management; Dylan Ocasio, sophomore, undeclared; and Anthony Woolford, senior, Physical Education.
The other finalist teams were:
- Park Along, which finds and rents vacant lots for parking, and is led by Eunice Choe, senior, Management
- PhiloStand, a product to decrease the chance of spilling wine, with teammates Jenny Patel, senior, Finance; and Lauren Szewczyk, junior, Animation/Illustration
- Trash Talk, a garbage can that makes noise to encourage people not to litter, whose team includes Gabriel Alves, senior, Management; Nicholas Capece, junior, Management; Lam Nguyen, senior, Management; and Salvatore Parrinello, senior, Marketing
The other 10 teams that competed were:
- Atlas, a social media platform enabling artists to act as agents, with Nicholas Castano, sophomore, Sports Events & Tourism Marketing; Wesley DeSouza, junior, Audio Engineering; Michael Gelvan, sophomore, Management; Christopher Giuseppini, sophomore, Filmmaking
- Bel Espwa, a luxury non-surgical neck shaping garment, with Jully Myers, Entrepreneurship Certificate student; and Nahkeekah Wall, junior, Economics
- BrandinStand, which puts advertisements on coffee cups and sleeves, with Anthony D’Amato, junior, Marketing; Janina Rizzo, junior, Psychology; and Dylan Rubin, sophomore, Undeclared
- Budding Beauty, highly advanced all-natural skin care, with Amanda Batkin, senior, Fine Arts; and Odelson Julien, senior, Marketing
- Erocliptic, an online dating site with a focus on astrology and the user’s zodiac sign, with Hailey Aromando, senior, Management; Sarah Haycock, junior, Family and Child Studies; Alexandra Mezzina, junior, Sports Events & Tourism Marketing
- Noah’s Ark Professional Pet Sitting Service, convenient quality pet care in the comfort of your own home, with Michelle Blanco, junior, Economics; and Stephanie Odige, senior, Management.
- Poof, a diaper that blocks the smell of fecal matter, with Emmett Azzam, sophomore, Fine Arts Studio; and Anderson Mata, senior, Biology
- Stylo, a means to heighten the writing experience, with Nathalie Lythus, senior, Psychology; and Krystal Williams, junior, General Humanities
- SurfDry, the first side mirror wiper system, with Jessica Cella, junior, Sports Events & Tourism Marketing; Stephanie Da Silva, junior, Fashion Studies; and Joshua Miller, junior, Management
- Unwritten, a web service that helps people build their career, life, networking, experience, and skills, led by Nya Bobien, sophomore, Fashion and Business Studies
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