Contributed by Krissy Vick , UNCW Office of University Relations.
UNCW student James Plott won first place in the 2021 UNCW Rocket Pitch Competition for his idea to start a glamorous camping business using glass-domed tents. Plott was among 34 student applicants and 11 finalists who pitched their entrepreneurial ideas to a panel of nine judges.
Sponsored by the Cameron School of Business with support from the Small Business and Technology Development Center and the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the annual competition provides undergraduate and graduate students from all majors with an opportunity to share their ideas for new companies or products.
Xaver Neumeyer, assistant professor of entrepreneurship, has been overseeing student competitions and related events like this for several years and worked with faculty member Jay Schach to recruit and mentor participants. CIE Interim Director and SBTDC Director Heather McWhorter assisted with recruiting judges and also served on the judges panel, which included a variety of local business professionals.
“It’s an opportunity to help energize students as they develop impactful ideas through the mechanism of entrepreneurship,” said Neumeyer. “A lot of them have never pitched an idea to a set of judges, so they have to think their way through, do background research on their competitors and target audiences and learn how to sketch out a business plan.”
Like the popular television show Shark Tank, the finalists delivered a 90-second pitch to the judges, who then probed with questions and selected the winners. Ideas ranged from music subscription services to recycling scanners to a beer delivery service for microbreweries.
“It was great hearing the judges’ feedback and their thought-provoking questions,” said Plott. “One of the judges’ comments caused me to rethink my long-term business strategy of owning, operating and managing Geodome Glamping Retreats, and I now plan to act more as a developer of these retreats, exiting after one year of successful operation.”
Second place winners, Valentin Schwoerer and Emily Goutille, both international students studying entrepreneurship and business development, pitched a custom, mail order beverage box service called Party Box.
Fiona Turner, who is studying studio art, and MBA candidate Erica Santiago, majoring in entrepreneurship, tied for third place in the competition. Turner’s Like Minded U is a nonprofit idea that would provide support and mental health resources to college students. Santiago’s Sistas Living Life (S.L.L.) is a membership organization for black women to connect through outings, excursions and special events.
“The Rocket Pitch Competition gave me the opportunity to have a hands-on learning experience for how to pitch an idea and prepare for future business opportunities,” said Turner. “I really appreciated getting the chance to hear feedback from the judges, and I feel that I am much more prepared and comfortable with presenting in these types of environments as a result of participating.”
Santiago, who has been working on her concept and business plan for S.L.L. for more than a decade, also appreciated the learning experience.
“Listening to pitches, follow-up questions from the judges, and what they appreciated most from the winning pitches has already helped me to shorten and fine-tune my pitch,” said Santiago, who plans to launch her business within 30 days of the competition.
Prizes for the competition included a $250 gift card for first place, a $200 gift card for second place and a $150 gift card for third place.
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