The McFerrin Center for Entrepreneurship at Texas A&M held its fifth annual “Shark Tank” style Aggie PITCH competition Monday where 30 current and former students presented their ideas to potential investors.
With ideas ranging from drone technology to feminine hygiene to a cocktail and mocktail mixer, the 20 current and former students who presented full pitches were selected out of about 100 who applied for the event. An additional 10 entrepreneurs were given the chance to present a one-minute elevator pitch to the sold-out crowd at the Texas A&M Hotel and Conference Center.
Steve Greer, a retired HP employee and a member of the Aggie Angel Network and Houston Angel Network, said the competition is a good one for entrepreneurs to gain experience getting up in front of a group of people and defending their ideas and answering difficult questions.
Juan Pablo “JP” Arevalo, a current student who presented their cocktail mixer company Dry County with his team members said he was grateful to have the experience to meet other entrepreneurs and network with students and potential mentors and investors.
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It is that networking that made the McFerrin Center decide to bring the event back as quickly as possible in 2021 after the 2020 event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The presentations can be made virtually, but the connections and networking do not translate to a virtual setting, said Blake Petty, executive director of the McFerrin Center.
Entrepreneurship is about a mindset, Petty said, and the events the McFerrin Center offers is about giving students real-life experiences that a classroom setting cannot convey.
“Our entire mission is behind giving students the experience of thinking differently, whether that’s founding a company or not,” he said. “Whether it’s starting their own thing or just even working in a large corporation and solving problems uniquely for that corporation, we want to give them an experience where they can flex that muscle, exercise that muscle, get better at it while they’re students, and give them a better leg up.”
This was the second year former students were invited to compete, allowing people who did not know while attending A&M that they would be entrepreneurs to have the same experience and practice.
Stephanie Powell credited a friend whose insight guided her to avoid setbacks as an entrepreneur and said she is using that same advice to help young entrepreneurs prevent pitfalls with their new companies.
She said the pitches were a “picture of hope,” as the entrepreneurs presented their ideas of solutions to improve the quality of human life with technology.
“It’s just these individuals that refuse to accept the status quo. They refuse to accept ‘This just is the way that it is.’ They’re not going to be told no; they’re not going to be deterred,” she said. “That, to me, is what hope is all about.”
Powell said one of her favorite things is hearing people talk about their passions and seeing that turned into intentions.
“We all can be passionate about things, but these are people that weren’t satisfied just being passionate about it or talking about it; these are people that put the resources they had at their disposal to a solution,” she said.
Stacie Thompson, who won first place — and a $7,500 prize — in the former student competition for her product called Ovie, said the competition was a validation as she and her co-founders continue fundraising after developing the idea in 2015.
The money, she said, will go toward purchasing prototypes of the product that is an illuminated button to remind people to eat food in their refrigerator before it spoils. Inspired by the green and red overhead lights in parking garages, the app-connected device indicates green when food is still good based on elapsed time in the fridge, yellow when it should be eaten soon and red when it could be spoiled.
“It’s great acknowledgement from peers and people that I respect in this room to be able to see the idea that we’ve had and we had so long ago and really believe in it; it was amazing,” she said.
Petty said the variety of industries represented and the range of development stages demonstrates the impact Aggie entrepreneurs have.
“An event like this truly does showcase that Aggie entrepreneurs are out doing some amazing things,” he said.
Results from the Elevator Pitch Competition: Third place, $750: Unravl Hair, Zanbria Asante; second place, $1,000: Imperium, Donald Bowen; first place, $1,500: South Texas Security Gates, Carson Neal.
Former Student Pitch Competition: Third place, $3,500: SageSpectra, Madi Heck and Mark Golla; second place, $5,000: Clara Orlean; first place, $7,500: Ovie, Wide Afternoon LLC, Stacie Thompson.
Current Student Pitch Competition: Third place, $3,500: Flow-Pax, Haley Clark; second place, $5,000: Teale, Narendra Vishnumolakala and Connor Ust; first place, $7,500: Flux Works LLC, Bryton Praslicka and Daniel Zamarron.