An app for organizing pickup sports games. A smart bottle that encourages water consumption. And an app that helps users maximize credit card benefits. What do all these have in common? They’re each the creation of students in professor David Hansen’s class New Venture Modeling.
The course, which focuses on entrepreneurship, culminated in mid-December when, instead of a final exam, 11 student teams competed for a share of $2,000 in prize money by trying to convince five judges from Charleston’s business community that their respective projects were worthy of investment.
The projects ranged broadly from a device and corresponding software that tracks the score of pickup basketball games to an app that connects recovering addicts with each other and sponsors to a service that facilitates investment in alternative energy companies.
As alluring as the prize money was – the top team won $600 – the true value for these students, Hansen says, is the experience they gained in developing a business, as well as the interactions they had with the judges.
“The Q&A session with the judges offers amazing insights,” Hansen says. “Going back and forth about the details of their projects is really the biggest benefit my students get out of this pitch event. The prize money is nice, but getting direct feedback and advice from real-world investors is invaluable.”
In the end, A.J. Abel and Tyler Namowitz’s app for organizing pickup sports games – PLEY – was the judges’ top pick. Abel, a finance major, and Namowitz, a business administration major, impressed the judges with what was deemed a plausible service for an existing and ready market. The judges also felt there was potential for a larger sports-related firm to ultimately purchase PLEY if the app proves viable.
Second place in the contest went to Team Navigator (Mitchell Smith, Jack Leffel and Austin Anderson) for their money-saving app that enables users to more efficiently manage credit cards. This software will monitor a user’s credit card rewards programs and recommend a given card for a specific purchase based upon the best return. The team is still building the algorithm and plans to do some real-world testing of their system in the near future.
One of the more unusual projects was Frankie Heindel, Joanna Zhou and Kate Mizgireva’s AHA (Addicts Helping Addicts), which won third place. The students described their app as the “Facebook for recovering addicts,” which aims to connect recovering addicts with one another for mutual support, as well as with potential sponsors who can help keep them on track in recovery. The trio impressed the judges with what was deemed a “fantastic pitch and a feasible idea with a ready-made target market.”
Pat Manna and Jeff von Freymann, two local entrepreneurs who mentored the class throughout the semester, were both on hand for the pitch event. Manna told the students afterward, “You really presented yourselves well in answering the judges’ questions. I’m very proud of all of the teams. That’s really the true test in this situation, whether you can think on your feet and respond knowingly.”
And von Freymann told the students to keep moving forward with their projects even if their team wasn’t among the five winners. “You should definitely keep these ideas alive,” he said. “And certainly, make a copy of what you’ve done and use it in future job interviews. What you’ve developed is a portfolio piece, and that alone will put you on the top of any hiring manager’s list.”
New Venture Modeling, a course which has been taught at the College for more than a decade, is offered each semester. A special pilot version will be offered online next summer.
Featured above: Students A.J. Abel and Tyler Namowitz won the pitch competition for the New Venture Modeling course with their app PLEY.