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$10K pitch contest results in euphoria, learning experiences

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Two women look shocked, reacting to winning pitch contest.
The two students who won the 2017 pitch contest react with joy.

Jamie Wisniewski and Selena Alvarez won $10,000 for their ability to pitch a product with words, but in the aftermath of learning they snagged the top prize in Montclair State’s student pitch contest, they were left speechless.

“I have no words,” said Alvarez, a senior Marketing major, moments later as she stood on stage with Wisniewski, holding an oversized $10,000 check that had just been signed by AJ Khubani, the sponsor of the Bright Ideas Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs.

The two women were members of team Fit B, a customized bra business that was one of 21 student teams that competed May 3 for the $10,000 prize.

“We are grateful for the generous gift from BulbHead and are excited to invest it into our business and see where it takes us,” said Wisniewski, who is pursuing a Masters of Arts in Public and Organizational Relations. “Pitching before the judges who have mastered the art of inventing was an incredibly inspiring experience. We really valued their feedback and seeing their enthusiasm about our product was so rewarding.”

It was fourth year of the student pitch contest, funded by Khubani and the companies he has founded, BulbHead and TeleBrands. The contest began in 2014 with four student teams. This year, the contest was open to any Montclair State student, resulting in a pool of 52 teams considered to pitch, which was narrowed to the 21 teams that presented on May 3.

Many of the student teams, including Fit B, were pitching as a culmination of the 9-credit Certificate of Entrepreneurship, issued by Montclair State’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship. Those students were in an advance course this semester, learning how to validate their idea with real customers and how to pitch their product, service or app.

“Being an entrepreneur is something I have always dreamed of, but never thought was realistic. This class and competition has made me realize that with a lot of hard work and dedication, anything is possible,” Wisniewski said. “Having the opportunity to turn an idea into a business over the course of a semester is so rewarding, and is what makes the entrepreneurship program so special.”

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Fit B credited the guidance and coaching of their professor this semester, Dr. Ross Malaga, a professor in the Information Management & Business Analytics department who also teaches entrepreneurship.

Malaga noted Fit B was an interdisciplinary team with students from two different colleges/schools on campus, and at undergrad and graduate levels.

“The Fit-B team worked really well together as a team,” said Malaga. “You could see in their pitch how much they thought it through and practiced. Every element – right down to their matching hair styles – was thought out. Their back and forth on stage was perfectly timed. They also put in the hard work to create a prototype and validate their idea.”Khubani, who served as a judge in the finals, credited the student teams with how well they pitched their products, services and apps.

“Montclair State is where I learned the basis for taking chances and establishing my own company while still a student in 1983,” said Khubani. “To be able to give back to my alma mater by conducting the BulbHead Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs and awarding the top student group with a $10,000 prize is helping to get that next successful business off the ground. Impressively, the 2017 participant groups truly have what it takes for business success. We are already looking forward to next year’s competition.”

The other judges in the final round were Don Braca, president of Adcomm and Dennis Bone, founding director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship. The prelim round judges were Manish Israni, vice president at TeleBrands; Philip Kennard, CEO at Futurestay; and Collette Liantonio, president of Concepts TV. The master of ceremonies was pitchman Anthony “Sully” Sullivan.

Residence Life and BulbHead generously provided raffle prizes for students who attended the event.

After 21 teams pitched in the morning prelim round, six teams were selected to pitch in the final round in the afternoon: Car Coat, Elaion, Fit B, Let’s Goal, Vego Ego and Wonder Wear Studios. (See full list of teams and students below.)

Even students who did not win the $10,000 pitch contest prize found the experience to be a valuable—even motivating—experience.

Bobby Esposito, a senior studying Psychology and Criminal Justice, pitched Uncover with Harold Garcia, a senior Finance and Marketing major. The app would use crowdsourcing to tell users what’s happening, real time, in bars, restaurants and gyms. Esposito started working on the idea in early March, and said he wrote nine versions of his pitch and then practiced the pitch more than 150 times in the three days leading up to the competition.

“Being an entrepreneur requires sacrifice. It means staying up all hours of the night, losing a night out with friends and zoning out of conversations because you just thought of a way to better your newest idea,” said Esposito, who admitted he was upset when Uncover was not chosen as a finalist. “But the feeling of being upset didn’t last long, it was soon overcome with motivation. … I know that I have a lot of hills to climb but I am looking forward to climbing each hill and learning while I climb. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to pitch my idea and I look forward to future pitch competitions where I can apply what I have learned from this previous one. I am excited for the journey.”

Jason Frasca, an entrepreneurship professor who taught and mentored several of the teams, said the students were learning many lessons about starting a business.

“This competition prepares students for the entrepreneurial life,” said Frasca. “By pitching in front of a large crowd, solving problems and validating their business models, win or lose they are ready to continue on and build a business. They have all the tools, and now the confidence, to pursue this or any new business venture.”

Below is a list of the teams selected to pitch on May 3, with students’ majors and hometowns, listed in the order they pitched in the prelim round.

  1. SPOT Vac
    Dana Tirico, Theatre Studies, grad student, Lodi
    David Mizrahi, Theatre Studies, grad student, Lodi
  1. Urban Nomadic
    Altarik Banks, Psychology, junior, East Orange
    Joshua Miller, Management, junior, Lodi
  2. EmpaMask
    Joe LeRoy, Business, junior, Vernon
    Hana Mershon, Business, senior, Lambertville
    Daniel Schoberegger, Computer Science, senior, Graz, Austria
  1. Car Coat
    Faith Cross, Retail Merchandising & Management, senior, Morganville
    Alexis Duran, Studio Arts, senior, Lawrenceville
  1. 3D Supports
    Catherine Ayala, Fine Arts, junior, Marlboro
    Christian Manning, Mathematics, junior, Hackensack
    Kenechukwu Ochibili, Computer Science, senior, Paterson
  1. Fit B
    Jamie Wisniewski, Public and Organizational Relations, grad student, Montclair
    Selena Alvarez, Marketing, senior, Carteret
  1. Clean Cutlery
    Michael Riabov, Justice Studies, senior, Montvale
    Christopher Serrano, Information Technology, junior, Hoboken
    Cesar Sosa, Computer Science, senior, Perth Amboy
  1. EZ-TIME
    Alexander Kasimos, Information Technology, junior, Merchantville
    Orlando Taylor, Economics, junior, Palisades Park
  1. Financial B.O.S.S.
    Cashem Lateif Holland, Information/Technology Management & Business Analytics (Entrepreneurship minor), senior, Brooklyn, NY
    Elena Guazzi, MBA student, Quebec City, Canada
  1. Drinks and Delicacies
    Joseph Brigley, Exercise Science, grad student, Bergenfield
    Miguel DaSilva, Sociology, junior, Union
    Alexandra Tevis, Marketing, junior, Scotch Plains
  1. BouchicMade
    Makeda Bozeman, Psychology, junior, Irvington
    Zoe Hanauer, Fashion Studies, senior, Livingston
    Aimee Vizzuso, Fashion Studies, senior, Montville
  1. Vego Ego
    Cristina Diaz, Fashion Studies, junior, West New York
    Jahlisa Prunty, Justice Studies, junior, Fanwood
    Carolyn Mathieu, Chemistry, grad student, Jersey City
  1. Grindstone Nutriments
    Quinn Cummings, Sociology, junior, Verona
    Anthony Milazzo, Economics, junior, Robbinsville
  1. LetsGoal
    Daniel H. Lee, Finance, senior, Fort Lee
    Natalia Lopez, Psychology, senior, Pequannock
  1. Uncover
    Bobby Esposito, Psychology and Criminal Justice (Business minor), senior, Bridgewater
    Harold Garcia, Finance and Marketing (Psychology minor), senior, Dover
  1. Elaion
    Alexis Johnson, Fine Arts, senior, East Orange
    Sophie Kunert, Illustration, sophomore, Bloomfield
    Kristen Martinelli, English, senior, Pompton Lakes
  1. Wonder Wear Studios
    Amanda Daurio, Undeclared, sophomore, Bogota
    Morgan Reilly, Marketing, junior, Spotswood
    Geraldine Rivas, Management, junior, Paterson
  1. SofiSoftware
    Siani Jordan, Psychology, junior, Sicklerville
    Kayla Watts, Marketing, sophomore, Freehold
  1. Virtual Split
    Cesar Enrriquez, Sculpting, junior, Newark
    Max Gallo, Psychology, senior, Fair Lawn
    Claudel Saintilien, Computer Science, junior, West Orange
    Samuel Mitchell, Film making, junior, Medford
  1. SocialLight Games
    Catherine Payne-Lewis, Master of Arts in Teaching (N.M.U.T.R.), grad student, Newark
    Jorge Villacreses, Master of Arts in Teaching (N.M.U.T.R.), grad student, Union
  1. Connector Protector
    Justin Rich, Television Production and Digital Media, senior, Montclair
    Dan Rivas, Fine Arts and Printmaking, junior, Parsippany