Hopeful entrepreneurs pitch ideas

U undergrads presented business ideas for a chance at startup money.
Judges for the BizPitch Contest decide the winner of the $1,000 grand prize at Carlson School of Management on Wednesday in Minneapolis.
By
  • Chelsea Gortmaker
November 29, 2012

It took Abbe Hyde less than 90 seconds to convince a panel of entrepreneurs that she had a $1,000 idea. To be fair, a minute and a half was all she had.

In the University of Minnesota’s “Shark Tank”-style Biz Pitch contest Wednesday, eight undergraduates pitched their ideas for new businesses. Hyde took the grand prize with her presentation of NotKnotted, a retractable device that would keep headphones untangled.

The management junior said the competition highlighted the importance of creativity on campus.

“Coming from New Zealand, one of the main things that the U of M is known for is innovation,” she said. “I think it’s really important to keep that spirit alive.”

 The semi-annual contest is open to all undergraduate students on campus.

John Stavig, director of the competition’s sponsor, the University’s Gary S. Holmes Center for Entrepreneurship, said Biz Pitch encourages all students to “push forward with innovative ideas for new businesses.”

On-campus entrepreneurship

Stavig said the campus-wide invitation to participate highlights the importance of ideas across disciplines — not just business.

“A lot of the best business ideas are in the science and engineering and other creative areas across the University,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is relevant for students in all areas.”

Stavig said the program, which is in its ninth year, has recently attracted more non-business students. Only two of this year’s contestants were from the Carlson School of Management.

Nik Prenevost, a senior organic and sustainable horticulture major, left Wednesday’s competition with $200 worth of prize money.

He was both the audience favorite and the winner of the award for most innovative idea for his method of converting industrial waste byproducts into edible, gourmet mushrooms.

Judge Ann Ulrich said the multi-disciplinary group presented “the best conglomerate of ideas so far.”

 Thomas Jermann, a College of Education and Human Development junior, presented his idea for how to get University students free printing.

College of Liberal Arts student Lisa Evanson pitched her aloe- and vitamin-infused shoe liners that protect feet from blisters.

Ernest Grumbles, a Biz Pitch judge, said the contest is changing the way people think about business at the University.

“I’m a firm believer that creativity comes in many forms,” Grumbles said. “I think it’s good for the University community to have people thinking about entrepreneurship and the creation of business in that kind of creative way.”

Participants conducted experiments, market research and developed prototypes to prepare for the competition. But the competition’s 90-second time limit proved daunting for some contestants.

“As someone who can over-explain and talk your head off, 90 seconds is terrifying for me,” Evanson said. “I’d rather have 90 minutes.”

Grumbles said the time challenge comes with the territory.

“Whether someone’s got a $100 million idea or a $10,000 idea, they need to be able to articulate the value of it in a way that resonates with the people they’re trying to reach,” he said.

Biz and beyond

Over the years, former Biz Pitch contestants have gone on to develop their ideas — ranging from a restaurant-ordering business to an email filtering service — using Holmes Center’s grants and legal counseling.

Past judge Scott Litman, said he looks for a business that can grow.

The judge’s work with the contestants doesn’t end after the 90-second period is done. Many go on to advise students on their business ventures.

Grumbles is aiding last spring’s grand prize winner, Natalie Herrild, an economics senior, to obtain a patent for her small, portable iron.

 Herrild said she hopes this year’s participants continue to develop their businesses, regardless of Wednesday’s outcome.

“Pursue it. Don’t give it up,” she said. “It takes a little work to get it off the ground but these mentors up here are fantastic and they’re willing to work with you.”

Judge Linda Hall said she appreciates the chance to offer young business entrepreneurs the lessons she’s learned in her 32 years of business experience.

“I’ve certainly made a lot of mistakes along the way, and if I can help prevent somebody from making some of the mistakes I’ve made, I’m happy to do that,” she said.

Herrild said she considered Biz Pitch a unique platform that gave her project the “legs to run with it.”

She said she was impressed with this year’s contestants and can’t wait to see where they’ll take their ideas.

 “It’s crazy the difference a year can make,” she said.

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