Students pitch products at business competition

The winning team, WaiSmart, receives a $7,500 scholarship at the Business Plan Competition on March 28.

The Robert K. Jabs School of Business hosted California Baptist University’s annual Business Plan Competition on March 28. During the event, nine teams of students participated in a fast-pitch competition during which they put forward ideas for innovative products to a panel of judges and an audience of more than 150 students.

“We style it as a ‘Dolphin Tank’ style event,” said Dr. Tim Gramling, the dean of the School of Business. “It is not intended to harm or to be mean-spirited, but to give students feedback and to nudge them in the right direction, like a dolphin would.”

The groups that presented at the fast-pitch event were selected through a deliberation process leading up to the event. In the weeks prior, School of Business faculty members met with the groups to discuss their business plans and products and share real-world knowledge with the teams. Then, nine finalists moved on to present at the event on March 28.

Dr. Marina Girju, the associate dean of the School of Business, said that the format of the Business Plan Competition allows for students to gain valuable insight from the experience, regardless of whether they win or lose.

“There was a lot that the students and the groups overall actually learned, so if you are thinking about the benefit of the competition, it is not only winning, but it is the entire learning that they actually went through throughout the entire process,” Girju said.

During the event, the teams each presented a five-minute pitch for their products, and then the judges were able to ask questions about the product.

The competition resulted in the top three teams each receiving scholarship money intended to fund the start of the business proposed by each team. The prize money offered to the first-, second- and third-place teams was $7,500, $5,000 and $2,500, respectively. The judges’ opinions as well as a survey of the audience members’ opinions determined the winners.

Nolan Gouveia, department lead for entrepreneurship, said he enjoyed seeing the increased involvement of students from across CBU this year and witnessing the development of interdisciplinary teams.

“This year more than any other year, it was cool to see how many other majors were represented,” Gouveia said. “In years past, it was very heavily business students, but my goal has always been to get it across the whole campus. We saw students from engineering, CAVAD, health sciences, kinesiology, the life sciences and a lot from business. That’s what makes it robust. It makes it fun to listen to things that are different than what we always hear about in the business school.”

Gramling said he was impressed by the innovation and diversity of the products presented at this year’s competition. The winning team pitched a product called WaiSmart, a smart shower system that regulates water temperature and pressure and allows users to control it through their phones. In addition, the second-place team pitched GeoChat, a geo-smart app that would allow for communication in a college community within a geographic area, and the third-place team presented SafeSuds, a sustainable, clean approach to washing cars.

The winning team included junior mechanical engineering majors Carson Merrill, Jared Prewett, Jack Lee, Josh Bromby and Austin Esquerra. They originally began to develop the idea for their project in their junior design class for engineering. Then, they decided to submit it into the Business Plan Competition.

Throughout the process, the team received advice from professors such as Dr. Phil van Haaster, dean of the Gordan and Jill Bourns College of Engineering, to develop the product idea into a business. The team also said they used both skills developed through their engineering classes and acquired new business skills throughout the competition.

“I (learned through) going to other sources and other people to get help on the stuff,” Lee said. “We are engineers. We do the math, we do the science. We don’t know the business. It showed to me that you don’t just do it by yourself.”

The team enjoyed participating in the fast-pitch event and seeing their hard work pay off.

“We were definitely really anxious going into it, and then we did really well,” Merrill said. “Even if we didn’t win, I had total calm over me. Once we heard the judges, all the feedback they gave was ‘Godspeed.’ They literally thought it was such an incredible idea, but it was so challenging and complicated that they acknowledged all the work we put into it. I think that was the highlight for me. We literally did the best that we possibly could in that situation.”

The group plans to move forward with WaiSmart, saying its future was “classified,” for now.

“The main thing for us is to inspire entrepreneurship among our student body and have those ideas turn into actual businesses,” Gramling said. “We have had that happen where students come through the competition, they win prize money, and then several of them take that money and turn it into businesses. That really was the goal from the beginning, and we saw some great opportunities for the students in this year’s competition.”

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