Never underestimate the value in brainstorming ideas for a business venture: It could win you $50,000.
Just ask Montclair State University students George Garcia III, Jake Gilbert and Matthew Szot. The trio proposed a business called WheatPaste, a community engagement application, and won the grand prize of $50,000 by beating 13 teams of fellow students in the final two rounds of the fifth annual BulbHead.com Inventors Day for Aspiring Entrepreneurs held May 2 at the university’s campus.
The teams pitched their business ideas to two rounds of judges. Each team detailed its target audience, costs of production, intended profit margins and how they planned to sell their product.
Szot, a senior, set out to develop an ad-supported business app called WheatPaste that would enable users to post live events “to get better access to your news.” He said he approached his idea after sensing a lack of cohesion among New Jersey communities with people not following their local town government news.
“The plan was to give people unfiltered content to events happening in your community,” Szot said. “If you are a local barbershop, you could advertise at the same price as a Super Cuts. You would not be alienated. The only differentiating factor would be where you are located.”
Szot developed the concept for WheatPaste in an entrepreneurship class and the trio fine-tuned the idea.
Gilbert, a junior and classmate of Szot’s, said they will invest the $50,000 to develop the app.
“We are excited to see where it is going to go from here,” Gilbert said. “We are an app. None of us are app developers. We need a partner to help us with that side of things. We came up with this idea because we saw a problem.”
Garcia, also a senior, said the team expects to launch WheatPaste in the summer and expand it to most New Jersey communities by early 2019.
“We went through a ton of ideas, probably two weeks’ worth of saying crazy, random ideas,” he said. “This one Matt mentioned in passing. Now we have a fully formed idea with a couple aspects that are really great moving forward.”
The competition was made possible through AJ Khubani, a 1984 Montclair State graduate who is president of Telebrands and BulbHead.com. Telebrands is the largest marketer of the “As Seen on TV” products and a pioneer in the direct-response marketing business. He is a financial sponsor of the competition and one of the judges.
“Montclair approached me and asked if I would sponsor this,” Khubani told NJBIZ. “I thought it was a natural fit for me. My career has been looking at new business and product ideas almost on a daily basis. I have been very successful in my business. A lot of it I owe to this university. I like the idea of giving back to people going through a similar struggle that I went through.”
Aspiring entrepreneurs need to know how to be smart with their money and when to acknowledge failure, he said.
“In our business only one out of 100 ideas are actually successful,” Khubani said. “The odds are very slim. The challenge is being able to accept failure and moving on to the next idea until you find something that works.
“But the important thing is knowing when to stop spending money. The biggest problem entrepreneurs have is they fall in love with their ideas and they continue to pursue it for years and years even though it does not have scope. What they should do is fail quickly.”
Dennis Bone, director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship at Montclair State University, was one of the judges in the final round. The competition creates an entrepreneurial experience he believes cannot be taught in a classroom.
“You cannot lecture and talk about who are good entrepreneurs and what are their traits,” Bone said. “You have to live it.”
The second-place team of Bailey Capra, Sarah DiPirro, Lauren Green and Lauren Wisnewski pitched Eatree, a healthy plant-based fast-casual restaurant chain, and won $20,000.
Placing third were Kent Daniel and Sasha Mejia-Rivas, who pitched Culture Wear, a clothing company with a tagline of “giving back one stitch at a time.” They earned $10,000.