Entrepreneurial alumni test the water and swim with sharks
Twelve alumni with sixteen projects entered the New Venture Competition in December. The field was narrowed to six start-up plans submitted by (in alphabetical order): Laura Bellofatto-Bense '90; Daryl Crockett '82; Melissa Ellard '13; Matthew Lotfey '10 and Jason Coppola '07; Hooman Shahidi '13 and Jillian Friot '14; and Shain Waugh '00.
These six teams of alumni and students appeared before a panel of judges, all accomplished entrepreneurial Bryant alumni, in the third annual New Venture Competition, held on campus during Alumni Leadership Weekend March 1-2. Each team's goal was to persuade the judges that theirs was the right investment for the competition's $10,000 prize in seed money.
IGNITING A FIRE
The judges, John Ayers '91, Eric Bertrand '94, Colby Butler '09, Edward Capasso '77, Brian Cowley '82, Scott DePasquale '94, David Pogorelc '85, Tyler Ray, Esq. '09 MBA, and Jay Weinberg '85, fired questions at the contestants, and later as they debated the strengths of each pitch, at each other.
“Aren't most ice creams made in America?”
“Where's your detailed P & L statement?”
“I can't figure out how you are getting paid under this plan.”
“How much do you need to make to be able to quit your day job?”
“What does your company's name mean? There's nothing intuitive about it.”
“How can you brand something as American when it doesn't have an American name?”
The competition drew the attention of President Ronald K. Machtley and George E. Bello '58, '96H, a member of the University's board of trustees. “This is so important,” Machtley told the judges of the priceless feedback they provided all the entrepreneurs.
STUDENTS MAKE A PLAY
Melissa Ellard '13 made a strong pitch for Fashion-Force, an online business-to-business service. Hers was one of two student teams among the finalists.
Looking up from his laptop, Weinberg said: “I just checked. Your domain name is available. Are you taking steps to buy it?”
“The minimum bid is $6,000,” replied Ellard. “I don't have it.”
“You need to buy that domain name,” Weinberg said.
“This is where you ask Jay (Weinberg) for the money,” quipped DePasquale.
Later Weinberg asked: “How much do you need to get your enterprise going?”
Without missing a beat, Ellard replied, “Right now I really need 10 grand,” (the sum the judges controlled).
“Good for you,” said DePasquale as the judges erupted in laughter.
Impressed at her confident, sophisticated presence, the judges awarded Ellard a $1,000 prize.
A DIFFERENT LEVEL
Daryl Crockett '82 won the University's own version of the popular television series Shark Tank, with her business plan for Validus, software for the data migrating and data validation industry.
In Crockett's first visit to campus since she graduated, she was awarded the competition's top prize. The panel was impressed at her 25-plus years in international systems implementation, her deep experience in life sciences, as well as her prior tenure as a CEO and history working in a public company.
The buzz from the judges continued after Crockett had finished her presentation and left the room.
“This is a business plan at a different level than we've seen before,” DePasquale noted. “It's refreshing to have a mature professional come in and be able to say: I am the world renowned expert in this area.'”
Still, even with Crockett's experience and expertise, the judges were concerned that pitching an enterprise with two focuses would make her startup a tough sell to venture capitalists and other potential investors.
Indeed, upon winning, Daryl Crockett noted while she appreciated the prize money, the feedback and opportunity to continue working with the accomplished judges was priceless.
As she announced the competition's winners, Director of Alumni Relations Robin Torbron Warde noted that the contestants had received tremendous feedback from the judges, all of whom extended an invitation to continue working with each of the entrepreneurs.