Five teams of Seton Hall University student entrepreneurs pitched their business ideas during the finals round of the 10th annual Pirates Pitch Startup Contest, sponsored by the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, of Seton Hall’s Stillman School of Business. All five teams received venture capital seed funding for their projects, totaling over $25,000.
The April 1 event, originally slated to be held on the Seton Hall campus, before a live audience of several hundred students and faculty at Jubilee Hall, instead assumed a virtual format because of the social distancing restrictions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.
Stillman senior Noah Thompson took home the largest amount, at $6,500, for Agape, an athletic apparel e-commerce website. Thompson, a finance major, impressed the judges with his innovative retail model and extensive research, which included visits to factories in China last summer.
He noted that Agape already sells customized leggings to sororities nationwide as a first step in building the business. His ultimate goal, he said, is to enable overseas factories to earn a fair profit while letting shoppers buy high-quality merchandise at cost. Agape will profit by charging shoppers a membership fee for access to bargain prices.
Rachel Badway, a finance major, and Robin Schilke, an art and design major, both sophomores at Seton Hall’s Buccino Leadership Institute, pitched LeadAhead and received $4,500. “In our tech-focused world, we often forget to develop the leadership skills that help set professionals apart in the workplace,” Badway said. LeadAhead plans to teach key leadership skills through a series of fun and engaging activities that students can complete on their cell phones. The startup idea grew out of a leadership class project, so Badway and Schilke are already employing skills and concepts they are learning in the leadership program.
Sophomore Luke Tyler and junior Marian Bsharat are cofounders of Edith, which would enable companies to boost productivity and employee retention rates by tracking early signs of worker burnout. They were awarded $3,000 for their proposed digital workforce management software. Edith will suggest work-flow changes to help each employee improve his or her job experience. Tyler is majoring in finance and minoring in computer science, and Bsharat is majoring in finance, entrepreneurship and marketing.
Faith Akinlade and Belen Gamarra were awarded $1,250 for their business idea KINetics, an app that would help members of health and fitness clubs with similar interests to meet each other to work out together. The app also encourages users to get together socially to improve their physical, mental and social health. Akinlade and Gamarra are both sophomores at the Buccino Leadership Institute; Akinlade is a civil engineering and physics major, while Belen is majoring in psychology, with a business minor. Last November, the team won first place for their startup idea at the Health Care Transformation Challenge, sponsored by Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.
Seniors Anthony Conrad, Jevon Mitchell and Marcellus Counts, and junior Quintar Mathis, were awarded $750 for Don’tStop.Skate, a mobile skate repair shop that would be similar to a food truck. They plan to create skate repair trucks that will frequent popular skate parks to provide instant repairs of wheels and boards, so that the skating experience won’t be cut short by damaged skates. Otherwise, skaters could be out of commission for days while they look for a repair shop and wait for the repairs to be made. Conrad is majoring in management, Mitchell in finance, Counts in social and behavioral sciences, and Mathis in liberal studies with a communications minor.
As part of their awards, the student teams will receive pro bono legal services from attorneys Christopher Santomassimo and Anthony Davis and their staff, at Santomassimo Davis LLP, a law firm based in Parsippany. The firm is a sponsor of the Pirates Pitch Startup Contest.
To encourage the student teams to continue developing their startup business models, the judges told them that each team could earn as much as $1,500 in additional venture seed money if it successfully completed a new eight-week virtual summer accelerator program that will be launched in May by the Center for Entrepreneurial Studies.
Susan Scherreik, the Center’s founding director, expressed her pride in the student teams. “These young entrepreneurs demonstrated passion and drive as they overcame many obstacles to compete in Pirates Pitch this year,” she said.
She noted that the finalist teams had worked remotely, writing their required business plans and creating five-minute videos for submission to the judges as a substitute for live pitches, and then held Q&A sessions with the judges in video conference sessions.
“Pirates Pitch continues to grow and develop as a competition,” Scherreik added. “That growth is a reflection of both the limitless creativity and ingenuity of Seton Hall students, and the planning and support of all of those involved.”
The alumni investor judges were:
- Bryan Jakovcic,’09, president and owner, Fusion Health (Woodbridge)
- Rich McMahon,’87, CEO, cda Ventures (Basking Ridge); and former president and CEO, Bed, Bath & Beyond (Union)
- Pravina Raghavan,’01, executive vice president, Division of Small Business and Community Economic Development, Empire State Development (New York)
- Gabino Roche Jr.’98, founder and CEO, Saphyre (Hoboken)
[This article originally appeared as “Seton Hall Student Entrepreneurs Win Virtual Pirates Pitch with $25,000 in Prizes” on the Stillman School of Business website. It has been modified for publication here.]