Over $30,000 in Funding Awarded at the 2017 Fairfield StartUp Showcase
Last week four student startup teams took the stage at the Quick Center to compete in the sixth annual Fairfield StartUp Showcase. This Shark Tank-style competition is the culmination of Fairfield StartUp, a program of events designed to foster young entrepreneurial talent at Fairfield through engagement with mentors and investors.
Although it all came down to one night in front of a live audience of 400 spectators and over 3,800 people who viewed the Showcase through Facebook Live, the teams began preparing for the Showcase in December. Through a sequence of educational, networking and mentoring events the students worked to develop and articulate their business models, recruit mentors and attract partners.
Each team had five minutes to deliver their pitch followed by eight minutes of questioning from the investor panel. Joining the investor panel this year was Joe Bronson ’70, principal and 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. Dean and professor of the Dolan School Donald Gibson, PhD, was the master of ceremonies for the evening.
Up to pitch first was team Africa Requests, a delivery service designed to safely and securely deliver goods, like electronics, from the US to Africa. Founder Julian Ashong ’17 was no newcomer to the stage. A former Showcase participant, Julian was joined this year by Diandre Clarke ’18 and Kristine Miller ’17. After explaining how the delivery service works, investor Joe Bronson suggested testing the shipping model with low value product before shipping actual orders. Investor Michael Garvey also suggested adding GPS tracking to orders to prevent lost merchandise.
Up next was team Trees of Life, a nonprofit organization with the goal of bringing clean drinking water to people in need through a desalination system using mangrove trees. The team discussed how one tree can produce six gallons of water, per tree, per day. Following the pitch the investor panel was interested in the output of the trees and the size of the mangrove farm the team was looking to pilot.
After hearing the pitch Garvey exclaimed “you might solve the water crisis on the planet and I’m pretty blown away by that!” Emily Yale ’18 described her role on the team as a mechanical engineer and how she has worked to develop the process for collecting the water. Investor Irina Novoselsky urged the team to make patenting the technology a top priority.
Following Trees of Life was John Daniels ’18 of College Place, a service designed to help college students connect with local landlords to simplify the process of finding off campus housing. John described how he came up with the idea for his business as a result of his personal experience trying to find housing in the Fairfield beach community. Novoselsky raised the point that through such a service, John would gain access to interesting data that he should look to monetize as a way to expand his business.
Backstage two student correspondents, Victoria Marano ’18 and Kelley Oliveira ’17, interviewed the teams with their mentors after they delivered their pitches. The interviews were broadcasted on monitors on stage so the audience could follow along while the next team prepared to make their pitch. Peter Murrugarra ’00 described working with John as “a great experience. He is very inquisitive and thoughtful in terms of questions and thinking big picture. I wish I had thought of College Place when I was a student at Fairfield.”
To round out the evening freshman team Tempas made their pitch. Matthew Fanelli, Seamus O’Brien, Abigail Sakati and Richard Saganey described their business as a mobile platform that allows college students to manage their social and academic schedules all in one app while granting friends and acquaintances access. After describing their plan to put together a version of the app to test with next year’s freshman class investor Hugh Davis cautioned them about going to market too quickly.
“Building a great business takes time and it’s not necessarily the first to market that wins, it’s the best to market.” He suggested that the team consider giving themselves more time to perfect the product. “Don’t rush to get something out quick that’s not going to be right,” he said.
In addition to the exciting team pitches, the Showcase also included special presentations from SoccerGrlProbs and Blink. An international lifestyle brand dedicated to supporting and encouraging the well-being and positive self-image of young female athletes everywhere, SoccerGrlProbs was co-founded by alumnae Carly Beyar ’14, Shannon Fay ’14 and Alanna Locast ’12 during their time at Fairfield. “This is where it all started and it’s surreal for us,” they explained. “When we started out we didn’t know how to run a business and needed a lot of help monetizing it. Being in the FUEL program was amazing for us. We started with three t-shirts and now have over 100 products on our website.”
The sixth annual StartUp Showcase was a huge success and over $30,000 was awarded in funding. The top three winners of the competition were Trees of Life who walked away with $11,500 in funding, College Place with $7,500 and Tempas with $5,000. New this year was the StartUp Hall of Fame induction. The investor panel’s very own Joe Bronson was selected as the Showcase’s inaugural inductee. Audience members also had a chance to cast their vote in the Showcase by texting in their choice for best pitch, selecting Tempas to receive this year’s Audience Favorite award and $1,000.
“This was an amazing display of student talent and motivation to present these ideas for companies, on a big stage in front of entrepreneur experts,” said Don Gibson, dean of the Dolan School. “Students, faculty and community members looked on as Fairfield students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, from engineers to business majors, demonstrated that they are an entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with.”
What’s next for Fairfield StartUp? Showcase teams will participate in the Summer Fellows program at the Fairfield University Entrepreneurship Laboratory (FUEL) in downtown Fairfield where expert mentors will guide them through the process of launching their companies. The program will include participation in local angel investor events and meetups in New York and Boston where the teams can attract direct investment from local and alumni investors.
"This summer we have lots of work to do with the teams," said Chris Huntley, associate professor and program director of Fairfield StartUp. "Now they are expected to become real companies, with real budgets and responsibilities. Throughout the next year they will have to repeat and adapt their pitches to recruit partners, connect with investors and hire out professional services work needed to get their products to market."
The Dolan School would like to thank the following Gold Sponsors for their tremendous support to help make this year’s Showcase a success: Barnes Group Inc. , Barnum Financial Group, Adam ’06 and Michelle ’07 Belardino, Joseph R. Bronson ’70, Mary MA ’72 and Brian Campbell, Critical Mix, Hugh Davis ’95, Scott ’99 and Kateri ’01 DePetris and SoccerGrlProbs.