Itís All About the Benjamins: Pitching the Next Big Thing
by Dennis Walikainen, senior editor
In a packed Fisher 139 late last week, future entrepreneurs strutted their elevator pitches in an annual competition to see who could best sell their business plan in three minutes or less--the time it takes for an elevator ride.
It was fast, furious, fun and financially rewarding for some.
Master of Ceremonies Bob Mark, professor of practice in the School of Business and Economics, kept the pace quick, and the only pauses came between speeches for the judges' voting.
The ideas were as diverse as they were interesting.
Michael Pelletier was hawking Metro Safety Products, a GPS-based system for tracking school buses and schoolchildren, so mom and dad can monitor them from home. That way, Junior doesn't have to go to the bus stop too early, and his parents and school personnel can rest a little easier knowing exactly where he is located.
Beyanka Sutton and Emerald Gary promoted Essence of Ebony, while keeping Professor Mark on the "elevator" in the front of the room. Their idea was to create a mobile hair salon for women of color in the UP, since current offerings are too expensive and too hard to find. Mark was sold on the idea: "Why don't we talk, ladies."
There was even local high school representation in front of the full house. Whitney Crist, a senior at Hancock High, dual-enrolled at Michigan Tech, presented the Whipper Snacker, a program to teach young children about entrepreneurship by training their parents to help. Crist also presented one of the potential products, chocolate chip cookies, to the judges for sampling. Nice touch!
As hard as the judges' task was, they had to determine winners, in addition to the Audience Favorite Award, which went to Bobby Cheesman and Dan Madrid. They "created" Tasty Tape, an edible adhesive to keep food together, like tacos and burgers, replacing the ubiquitous toothpicks. They had a little help: their fraternity, Sigma Tau Gamma, was present in full force.
Third place in the judging went to Yooper T's, by Shawn Peterson and Ibrahim Ndaou. They would create shirts on demand for tourists in the UP, initially based on the CDs by Da Yoopers musical group. They would expand to create shirts for events such as Winter Carnival and the Professional Road Rally: unique, one-of-kind keepsakes. They took home $250.
The runners-up, who won $500, were Alex Cotton and Connor Callihan, with EZ Locks. This iPhone-triggered system allows someone with arms full of groceries, as illustrated by Callihan, to unlock the front door without spilling the sacks. "Coming home every day should be EZ."
The winner was Jess Tompkins, with her Two Bows business: affordable hunting apparel for women. "With a bow in the hand, and one in your hair, you'll look good anywhere." She was inspired by her hunting trips with her dad, starting in diapers, and years of seeing women wearing unflattering clothes.
"I've already talked to a manufacturer in Virginia," she said about rolling out initial offerings of camouflage shirts, winter and fall jackets, and some "flannel that is really warm but never looks right on women."
She pocketed ten $100 bills (with Ben Franklin looking on admirably), and as the winners gathered on the podium afterwards, one of her fellow students shouted, "Hey Jess, are you taking us all to Applebee's?"
She seemed to have bigger and better plans for the money.