$31,000 Awarded at the 8th Annual Fairfield StartUp Showcase

$31,000 Awarded at the 8th Annual Fairfield StartUp Showcase

Image of the winning team, AutoDolly

Mentor Jeffrey Hendrickson With Team AutoDolly: Mike Lynders ’19, Parth Bhavsar, Kacper Laska ’18, and Matt Fanelli ’20

Anticipation ran high as four student teams took to the Quick Center stage to make their business pitches in front of a panel of investors and a 350-person live audience, with many others watching the live stream. 

What was Round Hill Road has now become Sand Hill Road, and the entrepreneur ecosystem is here at Fairfield University.

— Fairfield Dolan Dean Zhan Li, DBA

Last week, the Fairfield StartUp Showcase brought together alumni, local business partners, industry leaders, and the University community to celebrate entrepreneurship at its finest. Four student startup teams pitched their business ideas to a panel of investors, for seed money to start their businesses. In total, $31,000 was awarded to students on the spot. Teams will be eligible for a second round of funding upon completion of the Fairfield University Entrepreneurship Laboratory (FUEL) Summer Fellows Program, where they will continue to further develop their business ideas over the summer.

"What was Round Hill Road has now become Sand Hill Road," said Dean Zhan Li, DBA, in his opening remarks, "and the entrepreneur ecosystem is here at Fairfield University." Sand Hill Road is a reference to a street near Stanford University known as "the Main Street" of venture capitalism.

"This year’s Showcase had a lot of firsts,” said Chris Huntley, PhD, associate professor and program director of Fairfield StartUp. "We welcomed a new master of ceremonies, Chris Hamer, founder and CEO of CrowdFlik, and Dolan entrepreneur-in-residence and adjunct professor. There were two new investor panelists as well, and a new executive-in-residence, Jeff Hendrickson, managing director at Greenfield Hill Group, who had a lot of new ideas to contribute. We also introduced a new funding model and format for the Elevator Pitch Finals, and presented the new Social Enterprise Award – and $5,000 – to 2018 StartUp Showcase team, Belle.”

While the Showcase highlighted four student teams, the StartUp program drew more than 100 students at last fall's first kick-off event. Through the elevator pitch competition, business model workshop, and finally the qualifier round in December, Showcase teams were identified and participated in a startup course for credit this semester. Each week the teams further honed their business ideas and recruited mentors, attracted partnerships, and developed their pitch presentation skills. StartUp mentors offered invaluable feedback and support during the months leading up to the Showcase.

Returning to the 2019 Showcase investor panel was Adam Belardino ’06, managing director of Maddox Premier Client Group, and Mary Anne Rooke P’20, president and managing director of Angel Investor Forum. Two new investors, Dagan Kasavana ’99, founder and CEO of Phoenix Tower International, and Bob Dorf, serial entrepreneur and world-renowned startup coach joined the panel this year. Student correspondents Abigail Sakati ’20 and Joseph Venero ’21 caught up with the teams and mentors after the pitches for interview questions.

The night kicked off with the return of Emily Yale ’18, third-time StartUp Showcase competitor accompanied by team member Jacob Beam ’21 with her business Sketch2Market, a design prototype manufacturing and exit event company. Yale was inspired to start Sketch2Market because she realized that many product ideas filter through the StartUp program but many do not advance to market. Sketch2Market was designed to bring these ideas to life. At the conclusion of the team’s pitch, Yale and Beam asked for funding to incorporate their business and build their website and marketing to help achieve their goal of attracting 20 customers by the end of the summer.

Investor panelist Bob Dorf commended Yale for her “rock star entrepreneur” qualities, having worked with her on other startups. He noted that Yale should focus on how to make Sketch2Market repeatable, scaleable, and profitable and recommended they take fewer clients at the onset in order to produce a success story to help attract investors. In the end, Sketch2Market was awarded honorable mention and $3,000 in seed money.

Pitching next was Urban Harvest, a city-friendly agriculture solution that provides fresh, local, and affordable produce year-round to urban areas using hydroponics technology to get the most efficient yield. Seniors Anthony Mastrocola and Michael Spillane opened their pitch by explaining that not only is providing a balanced diet to urban communities an ethical problem, it is also an economic problem due to the high health costs associated with poor nutrition. Urban Harvest requested seed money to build rooftop greenhouses on the Bridgeport Trade Technology Center (BTTC) building, in addition to requesting marketing assistance and connections to the small agricultural community and the city of Bridgeport. Investors liked the concept of Urban Harvest, but felt they needed more market research to iron out their subscription fee and revenue streams to support heavy upfront costs.

Investor panelist Mary Anne Rooke recognized the team for being a social enterprise trying to make a profit and suggested they make connections with an existing hydroponics business in Bridgeport. She also urged the group to find their “special sauce” such as plant lighting or water filtration. Investor panelist Adam Belardino noted concerns around the potential for failure and waste around growing plants, and a need for market research to help understand what local Bridgeport residents are willing to pay for a subscription service like Urban Harvest. The team took second place in the Showcase, winning $7,000 in seed money.

Pitching third was Candice Peterkin ’20 with her business SheIsArt. Peterkin took the stage to deliver her inspiring message of how she plans to use her digital magazine, SheIsArt, to uplift and unify women of color. She created SheIsArt after recognizing that women of color do not have a platform to express themselves. Her magazine seeks to demonstrate that every woman is art and has a compelling story. Peterkin’s mission resonated among the investor panel who inquired into how she was going to grow exposure and followers.

Investor Kasavana asked Peterkin if she planned to make her company a full-time job. Peterkin replied, “I will make it a full-time job, because it’s a full-time problem.” Upon hearing this Kasavana pledged $5,000 in charitable donations from Phoenix Tower International. Investor Belardino noted that getting subscribers may be challenging, but that SheIsArt promotes a powerful message that is likely to get the attention of sponsors if put in front of the right audience. Investor Rooke was impressed with Peterkin's commitment and suggested she focus on her revenue model in order to be truly profitable to set up SheIsArt as a social enterprise. SheIsArt took third place and won $5,000 in seed money.

The final team to pitch was AutoDolly, a mobile robotic camera tripod that uses specially designed wheel modules and sensors to move in any direction. It is designed to save independent filmmakers time and money. The team unveiled its initial prototype, which was built using a grant from CT Innovation. Their ask to investors was for funding to build a fully-functioning device and to expand their marketing team.

Investor Dorf was concerned that the team would be challenged with getting producers and filmmakers to request their equipment from rental warehouses. Investor Kasavana recognized that AutoDolly is serving a need that exists and doing it cheaper compared to the competition, but that the group needs to factor in breakage. Kasavana suggested the team test and validate its forecasts with consumers once it has a functioning prototype. He invited the group to work with his contacts at Blackstone to evaluate their cost model. AutoDolly was awarded $10,000 in seed money and first place, gaining an additional $1,000 in funding for being the audience favorite.

Reflecting on this year’s Showcase, Dr. Huntley acknowledged that 2019 was a year of heartfelt goodbyes to several longtime competitors who will graduate this month, but that he’s excited for what’s to come. "We look forward to moving StartUp to the new Fairfield Dolan building and its new home in the Entrepreneurship Center, alongside the Patrick J. Waide Center for Applied Ethics and the Dolan Career Development Center, where we expect to collaborate on new and creative programming."

Missed the action? You can watch the recorded live stream of the 2019 Fairfield StartUp Showcase.

2019 Fairfield StartUp Showcase

2019 Fairfield StartUp Showcase

Tags:  Dolan School,  Top Stories


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