A three-month trek through Colombia and discovery of the healing powers of calendula has led to a new life purpose for a budding entrepreneur who cleaned up at Montclair State University’s annual pitch contest with a new and natural product for feminine hygiene.
“I vividly remember telling myself, If I don’t find myself in Colombia I hope I find something that will change my life,” says Lisa Noesi. As a winner lauded for perfectly pitching her flower-based cleanser, she’s now sharing $80,000 in prize money at this year’s BulbHead.com Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs. “I guess I did.”
Montclair State’s pitch day is the highlight of the process launched by the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship to encourage students from across campus to develop promising business ideas. The Shark Tank-inspired contest gives student ventures a chance to test the waters, pitch their visions and turn their passions into profits. The prize money, donated by AJ Khubani, CEO and founder of BulbHead.com, is the largest collegiate funding pool at a New Jersey university or college.
On May 8, a large audience watched the finals in Montclair State’s University Hall. The students presented their ideas, product samples and PowerPoint presentations to entrepreneur experts, including Khubani, a 1984 graduate who has invested significantly in the University’s business program.
“I love coming back to Montclair State,” he told students. “I started Telebrands right here on this campus. I would sit in the Student’s Center top floor – I didn’t have a laptop back then but I had a notepad – thinking about what products to sell.” Those products are now iconic “As Seen on TV” and the online marketplace BulbHead.com brand.
The University offers a certificate in entrepreneurship, which teaches the real-life skills needed to launch a successful enterprise. This year, current issues like student debt, childhood obesity and sustainability invited heavy thinking on novel ways to tackle those problems. With the pitch contest’s reach across campus, students draw on each other’s expertise, whether it’s business or graphic arts, computer science or psychology.
The University also provides networking opportunities with alumni and professors’ expertise. Specialized classes and facilities like the MIX Lab with 3D printers for innovation and design enable students to fully develop and test their ideas. A team this year, for example, created 3D fishing gear that placed third in the statewide UPitchNJ Competition.
“If you prepare and if you work hard, when the opportunity comes and makes itself known to you, you will be ready to take it,” said OxiClean pitchman Anthony “Sully” Sullivan, who served as master of ceremonies. “If you put the work in, if you’re gritty, if you do the late nights and the weekends, and work harder than the person next to you, you can be successful and you can make your business work.”
Prize money will help the three winning start-ups – the feminine cleanser, a free-styling rap app and kindness beads – seize this new opportunity, and strengthen and grow their business models.
As the first-place winner, Mavo Care was awarded $50,000 to scale up production and testing of the all-natural feminine cleanser. Noesi, who studies Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies, teamed with Visual Communication Design majors Kenna Brockway and Nicole Curley. Judges admired their candid opening pitch and said their idea fills a need in the feminine hygiene market.
Second place and $20,000 went to the freestyling, songwriting and music-sharing platform Hypeman. It’s the brainchild of Robert McPherson, a Computer Science major, who has teamed with Finance major Anthony Russo to market an app that provides access to thousands of rhymes at the touch of a button.
In designing the app, McPherson says he was inspired by the large number of Montclair State students making their own “impressive and fun art,” particularly hip-hop. Hypeman is available as a download for Android from Google Play and will soon be available for iPhones. “Anyone who tries it will definitely want to have it,” says pitch judge Arline Wall, a new product design and development leader.
Third place went to Good Deed Bead, a startup that aspires to inspire people to spread good deeds, both big and small. “We believe that one single act, represented by one single bead, can help make the world a brighter place,” says Lauren Elwell, who graduated in 2018 with a degree in Family and Child Studies, and Jacqueline Lynch, who studies Sports, Events and Tourism Marketing. They received $10,000 to continue to grow their business.
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.
The daylong event also saw the awarding of the $5,000 Promise Prize award to Alicia-Ann Caesar. Only about a dozen schools across the nation are awarded the prize sponsored by Change Create Transform Foundation, to reward students’ academic excellence, leadership, scholarship, initiative, service and entrepreneurship. Caesar is pursuing her MBA at Montclair State while working at Cerebral Palsy of North Jersey and volunteering her time with community gardening.
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