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INNOVATION | The first pitch: Undergrads try to overwhelm judges with their business proposals

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The team from Montclair State, at right, speaks about its business, Karuda, during UPitch New Jersey.
The team from Montclair State, at right, speaks about its business, Karuda, during UPitch New Jersey. - ()

One was a series of coconut oil-based beauty products.

Another was a video game platform for teaching foreign languages.

Then there was SpaceFinder, which creator David Van Vugt wants to take to rural areas to help more people find parking.

What do all of these innovative ideas have in common? They all came from New Jersey college students.

The ideas were just three of 12 presented at the first UPitchNJ, a statewide collegiate business model competition held recently at the new Rutgers Business School building on the college’s Livingston campus.

The event was hosted by the New Jersey Collegiate Entrepreneurship Consortium, a collection of entrepreneurship educators for the higher education institutions throughout the state.

Susan Scherreik, founding director of the Seton Hall University Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, said just having the event was a victory for the state.

“Over the past 18 months, we — the members of the New Jersey Collegiate Entrepreneurship Consortium — have accomplished something that has never been accomplished before,” she said. “Coming from the most diverse backgrounds, public and private universities of all shapes and sizes, (we) have worked collectively with one goal in mind: to showcase the terrific entrepreneurship on our college campuses.”

A common thread that ran through many of the businesses presented by students was not just an understanding of technical trends, but also social ones.

From left are judges Beatris Manetta, Anthony Frasier and Caren Franzini. Each questioned business students during UPitch New Jersey at Rutgers Business School in New Brunswick.
From left are judges Beatris Manetta, Anthony Frasier and Caren Franzini. Each questioned business students during UPitch New Jersey at Rutgers Business School in New Brunswick.

All Me Ads from Rider University, for instance, was based on a recognition of short attention spans of young users of social media, whose memory for advertisements were described as goldfish-like.

“There is a lack of attention in traditional advertising on social media,” All Me Ads founder Andrew Gordon said. “If you ask somebody 30 seconds into the YouTube clip they’re watching what they can remember from the 10-second ad clip before it, they’ll probably just tell you they hit the ‘skip’ button.”All Me Ads from Rider University, for instance, was based on a recognition of short attention spans of young users of social media, whose memory for advertisements were described as goldfish-like.

“There is a lack of attention in traditional advertising on social media,” All Me Ads founder Andrew Gordon said. “If you ask somebody 30 seconds into the YouTube clip they’re watching what they can remember from the 10-second ad clip before it, they’ll probably just tell you they hit the ‘skip’ button.”

Safe Halo, the student company presented by Rutgers University, looked to address the growing concern over campus assault by connecting users to sober, reliable “Halos” that can be at a location on campus within six minutes when needed.

The winner, BoxPower, came from Princeton University.

BoxPower combines renewable energy and telecommunications systems that allows it to provide cellular services and electricity to rural populations at a fraction of the cost for traditional infrastructure.

The 12 student-run businesses pitched their ideas to a panel of distinguished judges, including serial entrepreneur Greg Olsen; Caren Franzini, former longtime CEO of the New Jersey Economic Development Authority; Betty Manetta of Argent Associates; Anthony Frasier of The Phat Startup; and Marty Johnson of Isles.

Winning student businesses received $2,500 for first place, $1,000 for second place and $500 for third, as well as the opportunity to work with and learn from seasoned entrepreneurs in the state.

Melissa Orsen, CEO of the EDA, delivered the keynote address.

“I was incredibly impressed with the 12 universities that put the competition together and the students that dedicated all their time, resources and energy to be here today,” she said. “New Jersey has long been known as a leader in innovation. From Thomas Edison to Bell Labs to leading pharmaceutical companies, countless inventors and inventions have hailed from the great Garden State.”

Ideas, as these students proved, can come from anyone, from anywhere.

And at any time.

Alfred Blake, the assistant director of entrepreneurship programs, summed it up best: “In order to run a student venture, you have to have some innovation, hard work and a whole lot of Red Bull,” he said.

E-mail to: andrews@njbiz.com

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