Last Tuesday night, Fairfield University celebrated the latest edition of its StartUp Showcase at the Regina A. Quick Center, with five student teams presenting their business pitch for the opportunity to obtain seed money that would allow them to further develop their startup ideas.
The almost three-hour-long event was formatted so that every team presented a five-minute pitch to the panel of investors composed of Joseph Bronson ‘70, Chris Hillock ‘00, Mary Anne Rooke, P ‘20, Padraic Kelly ‘90 and Ted Yang. After each team presented its startup, the panel was given six minutes to ask questions and have a discussion with the students regarding research, market opportunities and product development. At the end of the group’s presentation, the host of the event, GrasshoppHer co-founder and former Radio Disney Host Alexa Curtis, asked the audience for a round of applause and congratulated the young entrepreneurs on their achievements.
The event, however, started with a five-point disclaimer to the audience described as “rules and regulations”. Those bullet points reminded the audience that the competition was an “authentic educational exercise,” that they should use the term student teams and not investable companies and that even though private pitch presentations were allowed after the showcase, students should only be offered “offers to help, not binding agreements.”
Curtis clarified that two teams would receive “honorable mentions” and that they would take home a check of $2,500 each. She continued that the third place winner would receive $5,000, the runner-up $7,500, and the winning group would take home $12,500 for their business.
Affluential Clothing and Copula took home honorable mentions.
Golden Guardian Solutions walked away with a $5,000 check, and an additional $1,000 due to securing the fan vote. AdXR was the runner-up to Pantry +, who received the $12,500 investment.
Copula, a “community-building social media platform,” was the first team to pitch their idea to the group of investors and the Quick Center audience. Their app enables users, mostly college students, to “connect with friends who share similar passions and interests while maintaining security.” According to their presentation, the team identified the main problems as the lack of security, unsafe transportation and “misaligned schedules”. They also compared their app idea to other established platforms like Life 360, Bumble BFF and FindMyFriend, with their startup idea having more features.
Followed by Copula, Pantry+ was introduced by two of their team members which is composed of junior students Tim Ahren, Suraiya Hossain, Daniel Russo and Christian Morgan. The team presented its “state-of-the-art technologies in AI [Artifical Intelligence] and machine learning” that is able to read food barcodes with the intent of helping individuals keep track of their pantry’s items, their expiration date and nutrition tracking. Additionally, the application lets users find recipes they can do with the food in their pantry, and serves as a promotion tool for supermarkets.
AdXR was the third team to have the floor for their pitch, which they used to describe their product: an advertisement company for the newly extended reality world. The team, composed of graduate students Caroline Morrisey MSBA ‘23, Shahnt Madalian ‘23, Méabh Hartney MSBA ‘24 and John Addeo MSBA ‘23, shared in their presentation that the seed money would be helpful to recruit AI engineers and extended reality developers (XR), raise money for legal and salary expenses and introduce the technological services to digital advertising firms and XR developers. Even as the panel of investors presented many specific and challenging questions, AdXR left the event with the second-biggest prize.
The fourth team to present their idea was Affluential Clothing, a “streetwear clothing brand that seeks to inspire others to change the way they think about wealth.” Led by CEO and founder Kwahmyre Barbour ‘23, the company saw its creation from the idea of deconstructing money as the basis of wealth. For this, the company produces and sells apparel and hosts a podcast in which they hold conversations on redefining wealth. In its short life, Affluential Clothing has received 123 orders, totaling $10,500 in net sales; according to their plans, they will try to expand its presence to other Jesuit universities in the Northeastern region.
Golden Guardian Solutions was the fifth and last company to make its pitch presentation to the judges, just as the clock was about to hit the second hour of the event. Their startup initiative was born out of a personal experience and is “a web app dedicated to providing family members who could be targets of cyber fraud with peace of mind through data traffic analysis.” Through the use of a “guardian angel system” and technology to filter phone communications, GGS aims to reduce the possibility of cyber fraud by blocking unwanted or suspicious messages from their users’ phones.
According to Professor Christopher Huntley Ph.D., Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at the Dolan School of Business, the Fairfield StartUp started during the Fall of 2011 with the “first big pitch event” awarding $20,000 in prizes during the Spring of 2012.
When asked about the process for selecting the teams participating in the spring showcase, Huntley said that “throughout the fall we have workshops that are open to all students on the basics of crafting and delivering a business pitch. Then on the second reading day in December, we audition teams for the spring cohort.” He added that even though five teams are selected for the showcase, “any student is welcome to audition” as there is no course requirement.
“StartUp is very specifically extra-curricular, funded entirely through alumni donations and sponsorships,” Huntley described.
This year’s showcase saw startup ideas centered mostly on artificial intelligence and software development, which Huntley attributes to many participants coming from the Computer Science program.
“They usually have about half of their pitch materials ready to go by November,” said the professor as he mentioned that most of the CS students are required to take a course in Systems Design and Development, which helps them develop their startups at a faster speed. However, he also emphasized that “we would love to get more participation from the other schools” within Fairfield.