By Stephen Wilson

Five teams competed for the chance to earn a $5,000 investment from a judge panel of three alumni entrepreneurs.

The stakes were high for students who participated in the Big Idea Pitch Competition at the Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The virtual event drew 237 viewers as students pitched their big ideas:

  • Co:Mission by Dan Goodman ’20, a jewelry fabrication startup that puts meaning behind the material, creating unique works from customer-supplied materials
  • Course Registrar by Joseph Seyoum ’20 and Basit Balogun ’21, a data-driven web platform designed to help students locate, price, and successfully transfer summer and winter courses
  • Cignature by Chirag Nijjer ’20 and Vladimir Barshchuk ’22, a free platform designed to help small businesses develop networks and knowledge base
  • Gugump by Alex Doe ’20, Daniel Markovits ’20, and Nathan Sandalow-Ash, a politics discussion platform that works to eliminate the vitriolic echo chamber
  • Anekwe Foundation by Michael Anekwe ’22, a not-for-profit youth basketball charity that helps educate and mentor African basketball players while also serving as a global recruitment platform

Each of the five teams had 15 minutes to make its mark—10 to present and five for questions from the judges.

Judges included Ran Reske ’01, co-founder of Resident, a home furnishings brand that includes the Nectar Sleep mattress; Marc Lisi ’08, co-founder of Suvoda, a clinical trials solution business; and Jaime Getto ’13, co-founder of Nowaday, a travel experience startup.

They know from personal experience what a pitch takes, to inform, inspire, and illustrate business savvy.

The student teams knew this was their moment to shine. Luckily the work began far before this moment. In fact, 17 teams signed up for the competition. Over the course of several weeks, teams met with Dyer Center staff to discuss idea formation, empathy maps, business plans, market and industry forces, and pitch decks.

Their planning meetings included instruction and advice from Rebecca Adelman ’19, winner of the 2019 Dyer Center and Lehigh Valley Business Pitch competitions, Chris Ruebeck, associate professor of economics and faculty director at Dyer Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Marty Johnson, visiting entrepreneur in residence, and Yusuf Dahl, Bradbury Dyer III ’64 Director for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

In the end, teams that were selected to present wowed the judges, who ultimately decided to split the monetary prize equally among the teams.

“This is a real chance for students to showcase their ideas and the steps they have taken to validate the assumptions that undergird their value propositions,” says Dahl, “and to expose them to alumni who have taken that risk and found success. Our students have the talent and drive to create remarkable solutions and products, which we saw today.”

“I was incredibly impressed with how far along the students were in the development process,” says Getto, “and with their ability to effectively story-tell while also succinctly speaking to key investor pitch details, like the use of proceeds.”

Viewers voted for their top team: Course Registrar took home an extra $500 as fan favorite.

“We constantly iterated over our initial idea, to the point where the final presentation looked very different than the first,” says Seyoum. “We gave many preliminary presentations to expose the project to challenges, allowing it to become stronger.”

We are currently furthering our research on the feasibility of our business model,” says Balogun. “We continue to meet with Yusuf and plan to speak with alumni in the tech startup space in hopes to further develop this idea and bring it to market.”