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What’s the Big Idea? A Pitch for Digital Ad Platform to Help Small Businesses

Student start-ups compete for NJ’s largest collegiate prize pool at Inventors Day

Posted in: Business, University

From left, George Garcia, Jacob Gilbert and Matthew Szot celebrate their $50,000 first-place prize in the Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs.
From left, George Garcia, Jacob Gilbert and Matthew Szot celebrate their $50,000 first-place prize in the Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs.

A pitch for a digital ad platform for small businesses was a hit with judges at the University’s annual entrepreneurship contest. The winning team stood out among Montclair State student groups seeking a share of $80,000 in prize money donated by AJ Khubani, CEO and founder of, the largest collegiate funding pool in New Jersey.

Pitch day is the highlight of the process launched by the University’s Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship to inspire students from across campus to develop promising business ideas. On May 2, an audience of about 300 cheered as students tried to sell judges on their ability to turn their passions into profits at the Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs.

“You remind me of where I was 35 years ago when I first started,” said Khubani, a 1984 graduate of Montclair State who got his own start as an entrepreneur while a student. He’s since built direct response marketing into TeleBrands, known for its “As Seen on TV” products and its online marketplace brand.

Tech-savvy students displayed how they are making use of social media to market their ideas and incorporating apps to enhance products. A lot was at stake. The prize money would give the winning ventures a chance to grow.

Judges zeroed in with questions on marketability, strategy and finances. Tension built as they deliberated on the proposals of the six finalists. “We thought about what each team could do with the money,” Khubani said. “Could they really get to market, how sellable is the idea, how unique is the idea?”

As the first-place winner, Wheatpaste was awarded $50,000 to continue developing its app for a community engagement platform. The startup takes its name from the mix-it-yourself paste advertisers use to plaster their messages on fences. With an easy-to-use app for small businesses to design, post and push out ads, coupled with community news and events, Wheatpaste is envisioned as the “glue that holds a community together,” said George Garcia, a senior Business Administration major who teamed with Matthew Szot, a senior Applied Nutrition major, and Jacob Gilbert, a junior Psychology major, in completing the Feliciano Center’s Certificate of Entrepreneurship while working on the proposal.

Two other student teams secured start-up funds. Second place went to the makers of a vegetarian burger with sights on launching a healthy fast-food chain. Eatree was awarded $20,000 to continue testing its recipes. The team consists of Visual Communication Design majors Lauren Wisnewski, a senior, and junior Sarah DiPirro; Visual Arts junior Lauren Green; and Bailey Capra, junior Exercise Science major.

Third place went to an ethical clothing startup called Culture that will create opportunities for the workers making the garments. Culture, headed by Kent Daniel, a senior Management major, and Sasha Mejia-Rivas, junior Fine Arts, Photography major, received $10,000 to continue website and product development.

At each prize level, team members will share 20 percent of the award, with the remaining 80 percent to be invested in the startup venture under the coaching of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship.

“I’m excited to see a real success get born here at Montclair State,” Khubani said.

The daylong event also saw the awarding of the $5,000 Promise Prize award to Olivia Hettman, a junior History major. Only about a dozen schools across the nation are awarded the prize sponsored by Change Create Transform Foundation, each awarded based on the students’ academic excellence, leadership, scholarship, initiative, service and entrepreneurship.