Aspiring entrepreneurs among Fairfield University’s student body pitched their ideas to a panel of investors during the sixth annual Fairfield StartUp competition held in the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on April 6. In a style similar to ABC’s “Shark Tank,” students hoped to gain funding by convincing the representatives of the potential and viability of their product or service.
The event was livestreamed on the Fairfield University website and audience members had the opportunity to text in their votes for their favorite groups and respond to various surveys. The Quick Center was nearly filled to capacity with students, faculty and business people who attended the showcase, according to the Dean of the Dolan School of Business Dr. Donald Gibson.
Trees of Life was selected as the investor’s top pick among the companies and received a guaranteed $7,500 for first place, leaving them with $17,500 for funding after the showcase.
Junior John Daniels’ company, College Place, came in second and was awarded $5,000 as a prize while Tempas, consisting of a team of four freshmen, came in third with $2,500. Tempas was voted as the audience favorite during the live text-to-vote survey.
The competition, which starts during the fall semester each year, tasks groups of students with developing a business model for their product or service. Mentors from the school of business, engineering and communications department are assigned to each group and assist in the development of each group’s idea. Gibson, also the StartUp Master of Ceremonies, reported that over 100 students in about 30 groups were part of the initial stages of the competition, before it was narrowed down to the final five groups.
“It’s just a great experience for the students. They really learn the nuts and bolts of what it takes to get a business started from researching their consumer base, competition, budgeting [and] just everything that goes into it,” said Gibson.
As opposed to teams in past years, each group contained a mix of students from the school of business and the College of Arts and Sciences, with at least one engineer on each team or involved in creating the product or service.
Two groups focused on providing a service to poorer areas of the world; Africa Requests aims to provide students at the University of Ghana with direct access to Apple and Samsung products at reasonable prices without the fear of receiving counterfeit products.The project was the result of three years worth of work from Julian Ashong ‘17 and his group mates Diandre Clark ‘18 and Kristine Miller ‘18.
The winning team Trees of Life, on the other hand, aims to bring a basic necessity and resource to the people of Haiti. The research initiative seeks to modernize a simple yet effective method of collecting water from tree branches employed by boy scouts and use mangrove trees, which are the only trees that live in salt water but produce fresh water. Trees of Life’s creators include Cameron Whitelaw ‘17 of the School of Business, School of Engineering’s Emily Yale ‘18 and Fairfield Prep senior Kevin Gallagher.
The three remaining groups sought to provide a service through apps and websites to a target market on a more local scale.
College Place, a website to connect students and landlords in the same area together to make finding off-campus housing easier, was inspired by creator John Daniels from the School of Business’s difficulty in finding housing on Fairfield Beach for his senior year. He hopes to streamline the process of finding housing for students while giving landlords a way to find ideal tenants through students’ grades and records.
Tempas is a mobile platform that combines students’ personal and academic calendars and schedules to make finding a time and place to hangout simpler. The app was the collaborative idea of the all freshmen team from the School of Business consisting of Matthew Fanelli, Seamus O’Brien, Abigail Sakati and Richard Saganey, who found it challenging to manage newfound freedom as college students with their academic workload.
The final product is the pre-existing company Blink, which uses a debit card for kids that allows parents to send and track where their children’s money goes to teach saving and spending habits via an app on their phone. The product was created by Kyle King ‘20 prior to his enrollment at Fairfield University.
The panel of investors was comprised of alumnus Joseph Bronson ‘70, CEO of TheBronsonGroup LLC, Hugh Davis ‘95, co-founder of Critical Mix, Michael Garvey ‘89, founder of License Monitor, Inc. and Irina Novoselsky, president of Novitex Enterprise Solutions.
After the pitch and a short discussion with each group, the investors pledged over $20,000 total between four of the groups. Money is only pledged and not invested, as it cannot be legally binding by law until a private meeting is held, according to Dr. Chris Huntley, Director of Fairfield StartUp and FUEL (Fairfield University Entrepreneur Labs).
Blink cofounder Kyle King ‘20 was not legally allowed to discuss or disclose the financials of his company in public, as he had already been in talks and partnered with banks and other companies, and had a talk with the representatives in private after the showcase.
Dr. Huntley said, “By law, since he was dealing with real companies and negotiating contracts for funding of Blink, even in an event like this meant to show what happens behind closed doors he wasn’t at liberty to discuss his finances with the public.”
Because these meetings are usually held behind closed doors, Dr. Huntley believes the showcase provides the audience with an insider look on something that wouldn’t otherwise be made public. Investors have the added benefit of having a formal business model proposal on hand to review the financial aspects and potential of each company, which the audience does not see.
“We have this problem now where we have to reinvent how we run the program because we can’t have these kids coming back each year giving the same pitch again and again,” says Huntley. He adds, “It’s a good problem to have, though.”
“We have some very prodigious students involved in the competition this year, and it’s great that we can open StartUp up to students from all the schools here, not just business. The products and ideas they have just become so diverse and unique,” said Huntley.
Senior Andrew Tavcar enjoyed the showcase, particularly the pitches from Africa Requests and Trees for Life, and said, “It was a good representation of our college and what we have to offer but also shows the impact we can have in improving the lives of people in developing countries.”