$50,000 in Funding Raised for Student Entrepreneurs at the Fairfield StartUp Showcase
As one of Fairfield University’s signature events, the Fairfield StartUp Showcase brings alumni, local business partners, parents, students, faculty, and staff together to celebrate entrepreneurship at Fairfield.
This year, four teams made it through last December's qualifier round to earn a spot in the Showcase. They prepared for the event by participating in a weekly class and a series of educational, networking, and mentoring workshops throughout the semester to refine their business propositions, recruit mentors, attract partners, and hone their pitch presentation skills.
“This year’s StartUp Showcase was by all accounts a great success,” said Chris Huntley, associate professor and program director of Fairfield StartUp. “The students nailed their pitches and handled some tough investor questions with aplomb. The investors responded in kind, with a record amount of pledges going to the teams. Now comes the hard part; teams will have to follow through on what they promised the investors. I have complete confidence in our students. They always deliver, and I am truly proud of them.”
During the Showcase, each team had five minutes to deliver its pitch followed by eight minutes of questioning from the investor panel, all while in front of a live audience of over 350 people and 1,600+ viewers watching the livestream on Facebook. Joining the investor panel this year was Adam Belardino ’06, a financial services executive with Barnum Financial Group; Joe Bronson ’70, principal and CEO of The Bronson Group, LLC; Scott DePetris ’99, co-founder and CEO of Liquid Digital Holdings, LLC; and Mary Anne Rooke P'20, founder of Rooke & Associates. Vice Provost for Academic Affairs and Professor of Management Don Gibson, PhD, was the master of ceremonies for the evening.
First to pitch was team UNetwork, an exclusive alumni networking tool for universities designed to connect past, present, and future students. The team described what they see as an ecosystem of opportunity where universities want to stay connected with alumni and maintain their updated contact information, alumni want to stay connected with their alma mater and give back, and students want to network with alumni for career advice and job connections.
UNetwork requested funding for market research and app development. Investor Joe Bronson pointed out that there is a lot of value in keeping alumni information current. The team walked away with $3,000 in seed money and $10,000 in investor pledges, with an offer from investor Mary Anne Rooke to introduce the team to a super angel in Boston who is part of a technology accelerator. Investor Adam Belardino offered access to his team at Barnum Financial to consult on developing the CRM for UNetwork’s platform.
Up next to pitch was team EZ Bikes, an electric bicycle sharing platform for college students that features dockless ride-sharing. The team described how the business model would function as a subscription service, and cited market research showing that Fairfield students are willing to pay for an e-bike membership on campus. EZ Bikes emphasized how its target market would also include parents of students. Investor Scott DePetris suggested the team explore making the ride-sharing subscription available for purchase and renewal at the time tuition is paid.
Rooke remarked how EZ Bikes has an appealing environmental component for colleges and millennials. Bronson expressed how he loved the business idea, but was concerned about the subscription model. He offered to connect the team with partners to help scale the business. Belardino offered to connect the team with some of the biggest incubators in Manhattan. In total EZ Bikes received $6,500 in seed money and $5,000 in investor pledges.
After EZ Bikes exited the stage, MC Don Gibson introduced the audience and viewers to a new segment of the Showcase, the elevator pitch contest. The purpose of the contest was to demonstrate what an elevator pitch looks like, which is one of the skills StartUp teams learn while preparing for the Showcase. Two individual students, Matt Fanelli ’20 and Diandre Clarke ’18, and a team of sophomores, Spencer Gilbert and Kyle King, pitched a business idea presented by former Showcase investor Michael Garvey ’89, founder of License Monitor, Inc. The students then had 90 seconds to make their elevator pitches, and the audience texted in their votes for best pitch. Spencer Gilbert and Kyle King won the elevator pitch contest, taking home a cash prize of $1,000.
Following the elevator pitches, the 2017 StartUp Showcase team Tempas returned to talk about the progress they've made over the last year and to unveil the prototype for their app. Tempas is a mobile platform that allows college students to manage their social and academic schedules — in a single app —while granting friends access to plan club meetings, study sessions, and dinner off campus. Tempas plans to launch the app this fall for Fairfield students.
Third to pitch was team Land Maverick, a robotic rover designed to automate the process of soil sampling for faster and more accurate results. The team, made up of engineering students, emphasized how current methods of soil sampling are very manual and expensive for businesses such as golf courses, vineyards, and farms. The team explained how Land Maverick is priced competitively against current soil sampling drone services. They hope to first introduce the service to golf courses and then expand to other businesses.
Rooke suggested the team consider partnering with a business that manages golf courses and emphasized that Land Maverick is the type of “cool, new tech” that appeals to angel investors. She asked the team to stay connected with her after the pilot process in order to assist with making connections with investors. Belardino shared that he comes from an Italian winemaking family and could put the team in contact with vineyards. DePetris inquired about the patents the team currently has for the soil sampling technology and prototype design, and Bronson, an avid golfer, said he could put the team in touch with major golf courses. Of all the StartUp teams, Land Maverick received the most seed money: $8,500, plus $10,000 in investor pledges.
Finally, team Belle rounded out the pitches for the evening. Belle is a B Corporation, a for-profit business dedicated to social change, specifically building a community to empower female adolescents through an inspirational clothing line called Simply Belle. As founder Diandre Clarke ’18 explained, “Belle is a movement allowing women to counsel and inspire, to mentor and confide, and to build a support system” with the goal of combatting low self-esteem. The team pitched Belle as a subscription-based platform with a portion of proceeds going to counseling services for women.
Rooke was first to point out the value of Belle’s mission for women and said that the business idea aligns with the interests of impact investors. She offered to set up a meeting with a social venture accelerator in Hartford for the team to access resources and mentors. DePetris discussed the for-profit piece of Belle’s business model and commented that he doesn’t think cash is what motivates Clarke. He said, “I want to bet on Diandre as a human who can do great things.” DePetris emphasized how the team should focus on refining the business model and vowed to put Clarke in touch with contacts in the apparel industry. In total, Belle received $4,000 in seed money and $1,000 in investor pledges.
Once all teams had made their pitches, Don Gibson said it was time to announce the recipient of the Fairfield University StartUp Hall of Fame Award. To Gibson’s surprise, he himself was honored as the 2018 Hall of Fame recipient for his contributions to the StartUp program since its inception in 2011. To close out the evening, the audience texted in their votes for best team pitch, and Land Maverick won the vote and took home an additional $1,000 for being the audience favorite.
Didn’t have a chance to catch the Showcase? Watch the recorded livestream.