Tag: The Pitch

Lawrence student earns funding in The Pitch competition, keeps streak alive

Adona Lauriano ’21

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Adona Lauriano ’21 made it four for four for Lawrence University students finishing in the money in The Pitch, an annual intercollegiate entrepreneurial competition.

The government major from New York took third place, winning $5,000 in cash and $5,000 in in-kind services toward her start-up business venture. Lawrence students have now finished in the top three in all four years of The Pitch, a Shark Tank-styled competition that pits northeast Wisconsin college students against each other as they seek funding for a business start-up idea.

The competition, held in Oshkosh with Lauriano and some other competitors accessing it remotely, was originally scheduled in the spring but was moved to October because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Lauriano jumped into the competition when she returned to campus in September.

Lauriano’s business idea is called AX-ES (previously O.M. ID), a for-profit venture that would partner with municipalities in creating and distributing municipal photo identification cards for people who do not have a driver’s license. It’s all about access—or lack thereof—for people who are otherwise at a disadvantage when dealing with everything from City Hall to their neighborhood bank, she said.

AX-ES will develop a “white-label platform” to provide the software and hardware to implement and maintain a municipal ID program, Lauriano said.

“Eventually, we will control the cards’ production and distribution, but we will begin by partnering with each contracted municipality’s city ID agency,” she said. “AX-ES is seeking out contracted partnerships with city ID agencies in municipalities throughout the U.S. to ensure all individuals have access to beneficial and essential services despite socio-economic status, race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation. We are a for-profit social good organization, designed to promote community inclusion, financial access, and improved relationships between residents and local government.”

There are populations in every city that live without appropriate identification. Lauriano said AX-ES aims to bridge that divide.

“The problem is that many individuals who do not hold a driver’s license—homeless constituents, young people, and immigrants—do not have official identification that is accepted by police, banks, and some parks,” she said. “It is a human rights issue since IDs confer access to every aspect of public life.”

Lauriano, coached by Irene Strohbeen ’78 and getting guidance from Gary Vaughan, Lawrence’s coordinator of the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program, made her pitch to the judges virtually. She weathered technical issues but came out undeterred.

“I tried my best to stress my passion and AX-ES’ potential to provide a super high impact,” she said.

Lauriano said 13 municipalities in the United States currently have municipal IDs. She wants to provide a service to make that much more widespread, with a focus on mid-sized cities that might not have the resources of a major metropolitan area.

“Thus, the real opportunity is to take AX-ES nationwide,” Lauriano said. “We would like to make it easier for cities to implement municipal IDs. Our potential market is the 639 U.S. cities with a population of 50,000 to 200,000. … We want to cater to cities that might not have the human resources to develop their own municipal ID program without external assistance.”   

Lawrence was joined in the fourth annual competition by students from St. Norbert College, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, Fox Valley Technical College, Moraine Park Technical College, and Northeast Wisconsin Technical College. In all, 10 teams or individuals made pitches to the judges. Nicolet Bank was again the premier sponsor.

2017: Lawrence hockey players take first place in inaugural event.

2018: Team of international students takes first in second year.

2019: A strong second place in third annual competition.

Lawrence is the only school to have placed in the top three in each of the four years of the competition. Vaughan praised Lauriano for her preparedness as she navigated the difficulties of a remote pitch while most of the participants were in person.

“The fact that Lawrentians have placed in The Pitch in all four years the event has been held is a tribute to the total Lawrence experience, and it is indicative of the type of dedication and the work ethic our students exhibit in and out of the classroom,” he said. “Adona did great, and we are very proud of her accomplishment.”

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Lawrence student finishes a strong second in third annual Pitch competition

Hamza Ehsan '20 delivers his pitch for EVSmart at Thursday's The Pitch at Titletown Tech in Green Bay.
Hamza Ehsan ’20 delivers his pitch for EVSmart at Thursday’s The Pitch at Titletown Tech in Green Bay.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Eleven teams of college students came to The Pitch at Titletown Tech in Green Bay on Thursday with entrepreneurial dreams. Three, including one from Lawrence University, walked away with cash and a pledge of in-kind services to help launch those dreams.

Students from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Lawrence University and St. Norbert College took the winning slots in the third annual “Shark Tank”-type competition. Other schools represented at The Pitch included the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Fox Valley Technical College and Moraine Park Technical College.

This marked the third straight year Lawrence had a team finish among the prize winners. In the previous two years, Lawrence students took first place.

Entrepreneurial spirit alive and well at Lawrence. See more here

Innovation & Entrepreneurship as an interdisciplinary concentration at LU: Details here

Hamza Ehsan ’20, a computer science student from Lawrence, took second place, walking away with $7,500 in cash, plus in-kind services. His pitch before a panel of judges and an audience of mostly business executives was for EVSmart, an app that would be a resource for drivers of electric cars, creating a network of shared charging stations.

Ehsan said his electric car initiative is going to happen, hopefully by fall. He and two partners are hoping to raise at least $35,000 by September. The $7,500 from The Pitch will help, as will monies coming from similar competitions at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Massachusetts.

“We’ve been through a couple of these,” Ehsan said. “At MIT, we got to the finals, and we’re currently in the finals at the University of Massachusetts. I think we’ve grown up as a company. We’ve grown up as entrepreneurs.”

Among other things, EVSmart would foster a community of electric car users who would market their charging stations similar to how living spaces are marketed via Airbnb.

“This is definitely happening,” Ehsan said of the planned business launch.

This was the third year of The Pitch, a collaborative effort organized by the participating schools and supported in part through an array of business sponsorships. Each of the schools held their own competitions to determine who would compete in The Pitch. Five of the schools sent two teams, while Moraine Park entered just one.

Besides the panel of judges, the students were pitching in front of a live audience, mostly regional business executives on hand to scout both business ideas and talent. That’s a win for the students and a win for local businesses.

“It’s highlighting innovation, but it’s also highlighting students in the Midwest,” said Gary Vaughan, coordinator of Lawrence’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program and a lecturer of economics. “It says, ‘hey, we’ve got some bright students in our market here, and we’d like to keep them in our market.'”

Katie Kitzinger '20, left, and Emma Liu '19 present Jetsetter's Closet to a panel of judges and an audience at the third-annual The Pitch, held at Titletown Tech in Green Bay.
Katie Kitzinger ’20, left, and Emma Liu ’19 present Jetsetter’s Closet on Thursday to a panel of judges and an audience at the third-annual The Pitch, held at Titletown Tech in Green Bay.

Lawrence’s second team at The Pitch featured Emma Liu ’19, studying ethics and public policy, and Katie Kitzinger ’20, studying chemistry. They pitched Jetsetter’s Closet, a company that would rent fashionable, brand name clothing to female travelers. It would begin in Paris and possibly expand to other destination cities.

Liu said the idea stemmed from her frustration with having to lug around so many bags when traveling internationally. With Jetsetter’s Closet, a fashion-conscious client would arrive at her hotel with a week’s worth of stylish clothes already there.

“We wanted to find a very niche market where we could get started,” she said of the decision to focus on women in Paris.

They didn’t win, but the experience of The Pitch was invaluable, Liu and Kitzinger said.

“This is really interesting for me because until this fall I wasn’t even thinking about doing anything entrepreneurial,” Kitzinger said. “And then we got together and started talking about the Jetsetter’s Closet idea and The Pitch. This has been such a great way to get experience, just getting up in front of people and telling them about an idea.”

Daniel Salazar, a sophomore business management student from UW-Oshkosh, took first place and a prize of $10,000 in cash and $15,000 of in-kind services. His pitch was for a product called Pack-It, a small circular package holding plastic bags for disposing of dirty diapers or a dog’s messes. The package is designed to be small enough to be carried in a purse, backpack or coat pocket.

Salazar, who is from Appleton, said he joined a couple of partners who already have a patent and are preparing to launch a business.

“They showed me the idea for Pack-It, and I said, ‘Oh, that’s a huge opportunity,’” Salazar said. “I said, ‘I don’t want to work for you, I want to work with you.’ So, that’s where the relationship started, and I joined the team.”

Third place went to Breena Hansen, a business administration student from St. Norbert. Her pitch was for Clean Comfort Food Delivery, a business that would prepare and deliver healthy meals to clients. She won $5,000, plus in-kind services.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu

Innovation alive and well at Lawrence as students eye a three-peat in The Pitch

Lawrence students participate in The Pitch in 2018.
A team from Lawrence University won The Pitch in 2018 for the second straight year.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

There is an entrepreneurial spirit at Lawrence University, weaved into the liberal arts education in everything from science programs to music instruction.

So, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Lawrence students have come away with the title — and the money — in each of the first two installments of The Pitch, a “Shark Tank”-styled competition involving colleges and universities in east-central Wisconsin.

On Thursday, Lawrence will aim for a three-peat.

Students from six schools will deliver their pitches for innovative product ideas to a panel of judges — and in front of a live audience — at 4 p.m. at Titletown Tech in Green Bay. Joining Lawrence students will be entrants from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, St. Norbert College, Fox Valley Technical College and Moraine Park Technical College.

Each school will have two entries. For Lawrence, Hamza Ehsan ’20 will pitch EVSmart while Emma Liu ’19 and Katie Kitzinger ’20 will pitch Jetsetter’s Closet.

EVSmart involves the creation of an app that would identify and facilitate the use of charging stations for electric cars. Jetsetter’s Closet would facilitate the rental of stylish clothing for world travelers.

They emerged as Lawrence finalists following a round of competition on campus. Similar competitions were held at each of the participating schools. The students who advanced will work with a judge in the lead-up to Thursday’s regional competition to better hone their presentations.

Lawrence students have come out on top each of the past two years. First it was a trio of 2017 graduates, Ryan Eardley, Felix Henriksson and Mattias Soederqvist, who successfully pitched their idea for Tracr, a forensic accounting software product. Then last year, Ayomide Akinyosoye, Alejandra Alarcon, Nikki Payne and Alfiza Urmanova took top honors with their idea for WellBell, an innovative wristband device with an S.O.S. button that can be used to send notifications for help, be it an assault or other point of danger or a medical crisis.

The WellBell students, all LU seniors now, are actively developing their product and working with mentors, while the Tracr project is on hold but could be reactivated in the future, said Gary Vaughan, coordinator of Lawrence’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program and a lecturer of economics. The finalists behind Tracr have graduated and now have jobs in finance around the globe — Eardley was hired as director of innovation at Nicolet Bank, a primary sponsor of The Pitch, while Henriksson is working as an analyst with the international markets arm of a bank and Soederqvist is in management consulting.

This year’s contestants will be competing for more than $50,000 in cash and in-kind services — with first place receiving $10,000 cash and $15,000 worth of in-kind services, second place getting $7,500 cash plus in-kind services and third place earning $5,000 cash plus in-kind services.

The panel of judges come from the business community across the region.

Lawrence’s deep and successful dive into The Pitch competition comes in large part because of the investment the university has made in its Innovation and Entrepreneurship program. While Lawrence doesn’t have a business school, it does provide an I&E concentration, which spans all disciplines and can be an important piece of any student’s transcript. In addition to a myriad of class offerings, Lawrence has a student club — LUCIE (Lawrence University Club of Innovation and Entrepreneurship) — that fosters the innovation mentality. And students across multiple disciplines get hands-on entrepreneurial experience with such community projects as Startup Theater, the Rabbit Gallery, Entrepreneurial Musician and KidsGive.

“About half of the students studying I&E are from economics, but the other half are from all over,” said Claudena Skran, the Edwin & Ruth West Professor of Economics and Social Science and professor of government. “They’re from art, they’re from music, they’re from government.”

She and other faculty members across the disciplines work closely with Vaughan to facilitate that entrepreneurial mindset as students make their way toward graduation and the job market.

More details on Lawrence’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program here

While the I&E program has shown its mettle on a daily basis in recent years, the school’s early success in The Pitch has put an exclamation point on that, Vaughan said.  

“We pitch against MBA students, and we’ve done really, really well,” he said.

Developing skills in The Pitch isn’t just about launching a new product idea. It’s also about learning how to present yourself when you jump into the job market for the first time after graduation.

“That is its own pitch,” Vaughan said.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu