Four Lawrence University budding entrepreneurs will present their ideas for “the next great thing” Wednesday, May 3 at Timber Rattlers Fox Cities Stadium in front of a panel of judges and an audience of northeast Wisconsin business leaders.
Sophomore George Mavrakis and seniors Mattias Soederqvist, Felix Henriksson and Ryan Eardley will compete for a total prize package worth $40,000 in cash and professional start-up services against students from St. Norbert College, UW-Green Bay and UW-Oshkosh in the first edition of The Pitch.
The Lawrence students advanced to The Pitch — think “Shark Tank” for college students — after sharing first-place honors in Lawrence’s recent fourth annual LaunchLU competition.
Gary Vaughan, coordinator of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program at Lawrence and lecturer of economics, said the idea behind The Pitch is to enhance entrepreneurial education and help retain young talent to the Fox Valley and northeast Wisconsin.
“We have bright entrepreneurial students graduating from our local universities and going to Chicago, Minneapolis, New York,” said Vaughan. “We want to identify who they are on our campuses, showcase them at events like The Pitch and invite our CEOs of area corporations to come to support them and talk with them.”
“We’ve got lots of talent here. We just have to find ways to communicate to them that they have a future here,” Vaughan added. “We want to provide a forum to showcase our young talent in front of our local COEs and find other ways for corporate leaders to identify our talented students.”
Mavrakis, who started his own business in sixth grade and won the 2016 LaunchLU contest, will present C-Star, a commercial product designed to eliminate one of the least favorite jobs of owning a fish tank: clean the sand in salt water aquariums.
The starfish-shaped device stirs up sediment in the sand, providing food for coral while allowing the excess to be flushed through the filter system. The device can be programmed to operate at night while you’re sleeping so the tank is always clear when you’re awake. Mavrakis is working on a solar-powered prototype that would work off the aquarium’s own light.
Soederqvist, Henriksson and Eardley, teammates on the Lawrence hockey team, will compete as team FA Analytics. They will pitch Tracr, a software application they developed for forensic asset analysis. The software automates the task of tracing assets acquired through fraudulent activities.
The application was inspired by an internship Eardley had last summer at Deloitte, a national company that provides auditing, consulting, financial advisory, risk management, tax and related services.
“By using an algorithm, they have been able to take the function of tracking fraudulent assets from a 20-hours-by-hand process down to a two-hour computer process,” explained Vaughan. “When you fraudulently obtain money, you’re likely buying stuff with it and you have these assets. From a forensic view, the software tracks down through bank statement and credit card statements and identifies the fraudulent purchases.”
According to Vaughan, proof of concept for Tracr has passed a few people at Deloitte, who said they were on to something and would pay for it if they can operate it.
“I feel like they have a decent chance of working this all the way through,” said Vaughan.
The winner of The Pitch will receive $10,000 in cash and $15,000 in professional services (web design/development, product prototyping, marketing, legal advice, accounting support), while the second-place finisher will receive $5,000 in cash and $10,000 in technical services.
Without making any predictions, Vaughan is confident Lawrence’s “pitchers” will represent the university well.
“Our students, with our speaking-intensive courses we have, will pitch well, they will present themselves professionally in my opinion,” said Vaughan. “I think we have a good chance. I think we can do it.”
Serving as judges for the first Pitch competition will be:
• Maggie Brickerman, gener8tor. Managing director for gener8tor’s gBETA program, a free accelerator for early stage companies with ties to Wisconsin colleges or universities.
• Mike Daniels, Nicolet National Bank. President and CEO who co-founded Nicolet National Bank in 2000community lender.
• Craig Dickman, Breakthrough Fuel. Founder, CEO and chief innovation officer for Breakthrough Fuel, which specializes in supply chain logistics and fuel cost management.
• Greg Lynch, Michael Best. A partner with the national law firm Michael Best. Lynch advises companies on financing strategies and mergers & acquisitions. He is co-founder of the firm’s Venture Best emerging company practice.
• Neil Mix, Quadrant. A silicon-valley style technologist, product developer and entrepreneur. A veteran of several venture capital funded startups, Mix co-founded a Microsoft acquisition and helped build Internet radio service Pandora from the ground up.
• Zack Pawlosky, Candeo Creative, owner of the nationally recognized entrepreneurial marketing agency based in Oshkosh. He also is the founder of a software development company and a partner in a venture capital firm.
• David Trotter, Winnebago Seed Fund, managing director of Winnebago Capital Partners, the general partner of the Winnebago Seed Fund, a newly formed venture capital fund in Neenah. The fund focuses on seed investments in startup companies in the Fox Valley.
The Pitch is organized by The Fox Connection, a collaboration of academic institutions in northeast Wisconsin to enhance entrepreneurial education and opportunity for area students.
About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Engaged learning, the development of multiple interests and community outreach are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries.