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A pitch for the entrepreneurship

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Taylor Hicks presents her product during the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge on Feb. 22, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)


By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Those who look to the entrepreneurial spirit of Greenville’s young business community as a force for regional growth and development found a lot to feel hopeful about on Thursday night at Harvey Hall on the ECU campus.

Seven teams of students presented a series of five-minute pitches, competing for cash prizes and an opportunity to get support for their business ideas in the third and final round of the 2018 Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The contest started in October at the Miller School of Entrepreneurship’s trade show, where 57 teams competed for 12 spots and a chance in November’s second round.

The Miller faculty had three goals for the competition, according to David Mayo, a Miller School instructor and the event coordinator and host. 

“We wanted to increase awareness of entrepreneurship on the ECU campus, introduce a mechanism for startup development through business coaching and provide funding to promising entrepreneurs among the student body,” Mayo said. “Tonight, we accomplish all three goals.”

Between November and Thursday’s final round, teams worked with mentors from various business-oriented departments at the university to hone their pitch skills,

ECU alumni who have established successful businesses comprised the final judging panel for the competition. Criteria included scalability of the entrepreneurial idea, market growth potential and how likely the prize money awarded through the competition — $12,000 to the first-place winner — would be adequate to support growth.

“The funds were broken down into three milestone payments,” Mayo said. “The winner will receive a check to help reach the first milestone goal, then another when that goal is met, to make sure the funds are going toward the business.”

Successful entrepreneurship requires a thorough knowledge of business principles, learned in the classroom, combined with practical experience to develop skills and particular personal characteristics and qualities, he said.

“There’s no better learning environment than getting out and doing, and that’s what these students are doing,” Mayo said. “They’re starting their own businesses and applying those principles and skills they learned in their classes. Some come here from engineering classes and apply technical product knowledge to their marketing skills and entrepreneurial passion.”

Teammates Chandler King and Nicholas Venditti felt good about being first up with their business pitch, a water-resistant backpack with interchangeable compartments able to store a variety of belongings, called FOWL. 

“We get it out of the way while the judges haven’t been influenced by the others,” King said.

“My nerves were a little shaky earlier today, But now that it’s time to go, I feel a lot better,” Venditti said. “Our mentor, Hallie Hawkins, helped us with our pitch and we’re feeling really confident at this point.”

Other competitors included Magus Pereria, a computer science major, with “Cluster Duck”; Paul Safrit, a business management major, with “Safrit Solar”; Matt McCall, an engineering major, with “Beyond Tutoring”; Victor Still, a psychology major, with “Who is Rose”; Jordan Rice and Troy Demers, business majors, with “House Pool”; and Taylor Hicks, business management major, with “Simple and Sentimental.”

At the conclusion of each presentation, the judges asked questions about the product, how the entrepreneurs have been developing it and their businesses and how they expected them to grow in the market.

There were surprisingly few displays of nervousness among the competitors. Presentation strategies varied as some demonstrated higher product and business knowledge through their answers, while others focused on exuding confidence through their pitch performances. 

Top prize went to Hicks for her business concept of hand-designed calligraphy and craftwork. McCall’s business, aimed at helping veterans with tutoring services, garnered second prize and King and Venditti’s multipurpose backpack business took the third-place prize.

“I’m really excited to see where this takes me,” Hicks said. “”I’ve always been really passionate about what I do and I think that’s where my confidence comes from. I serve a quality product and never let a customer leave unhappy.”

Stan Eakins, dean of the College of Business, described the competition as a landmark event, considering that the Miller School of Entrepreneurship began little more than three years ago through a $5-million commitment from Raleigh entrepreneur, J. Fielding Miller and his wife, Kim. The school serves as a regional hub for preparing students to take an entrepreneurial mindset and skill set into their communities.

“We soon will be the only university in North Carolina that awards a degree in entrepreneurship,” Eakins said. “With the support of our alumni and administration, there’s no reason we will not become the regional destination for those interested in entrepreneurship.” 

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector .com or 252-329-9507.