Students promoting an app allowing seat upgrades at halftime of sporting events, and a first-class bus service between Washington and New York, shared first-place honors in the first Pitch Competition, which showcases student entrepreneurship at Washington and Lee University.
Sponsored by W&L's Venture Club, a student group that promotes entrepreneurism, the contest was open to all members of the student body. A panel of W&L alumni who work in business selected 12 finalists, who had three minutes each to pitch their idea. The contest ended in a tie between Aaron Digregorio, a sophomore from Keswick, Va., and Jonathan Cahill, a sophomore from Pekin, Ill. They share the $1,000 first prize.
Kathleen Yakulis, a sophomore from Pittsburgh, was the runner-up.
Digregorio's idea was an application that would allow sports fans to upgrade their seats from the nosebleed section to something closer to the action during halftime of a sporting event.
Cahill proposed a bus service between Washington and New York, targeting it to business travelers and featuring Wi-Fi connectivity, electrical outlets and seats that recline completely flat.
Runner-up Yakulis pitched a reverse-auction website that pits car dealers against each other after a prospective buyer inputs the most they are willing to pay for a car.
One of the contest's organizers, Mark Sowinski, a sophomore and a double major in business administration and history, said that limiting each pitch to three minutes allowed the contestants to present a lot of ideas without rambling. "The students were judged on whether their ideas were fundamentally sound, creative and profitable," he said. "Obviously, how the ideas were presented is a huge part as well. So it was a balance of both."
The prize money was part of a generous donation from a current W&L parent, Sowinski said. "It's the catalyst to get people excited about thinking of ideas and also to get people involved so they learn more about the Venture Club, since we're so new," he said. "That way, when we have events in the future, they'll know about the club."
Students founded the Venture Club in 2011 to develop a spirit of entrepreneurship on campus. "Entrepreneurship is so central to what a lot of people end up doing after college," said Sowinski. "For example, for artists trying to sell their artwork, it would be helpful for them to have thought about how to start and run a business. People who are creative tend to do well as entrepreneurs, and the Pitch Competition gives all majors the chance to present an idea they feel passionate about.
The other pitches:
- A tool that keeps any size of book open for convenience and reading ease. It consists of two hooks that can be clamped on either or both sides of the book, and is tight enough to keep the book open but loose enough to turn the pages easily.
- An app that makes fast dining easy by allowing people to view menus on a smart phone, place an order and submit payment electronically.
- Molded bottoms that can attach to athletic cleats or spikes to prevent damage from the pavement and maintain the quality of the cleats.
- An online vending machine/delivery service that creates personalized snack packs for late-night delivery on college campuses.
- An app that aggregates information on the number of parking spaces, time restrictions and pricing information to aid drivers in their search for parking spots.
- An app that simplifies searching for a cab by letting users send a request for a cab using their current GPS, their destination and when they need to be picked up. The user can see when a driver has accepted their ride and track the cab as it approaches.
- A lunch delivery service for faculty and staff at Washington and Lee to make lunchtime less of a hassle. Individuals could place orders at the beginning of the week and have lunch delivered from restaurants in town as well as from W&L's Café 77 and E-Café.
- An online site that allows people to search for destinations and see photos that were taken there. It combines the capabilities of Google Earth and Flickr for the ultimate visual-trending experience, using increased GPS abilities in point-and-shoot cameras and smart phones.
- An app that combines visual and auditory connections by recognizing songs and placing them with the scene from movies, TV shows, musicals or commercials.
For more information about the Venture Club and the W&L Entrepreneurship Program, see http://entrepreneurship.wlu.edu/.