Students pitch business ideas for cash prizes, potential funding

Business Pitch 2015

Business Pitch 2015 helps student entrepreneurs develop innovative start-up models

Think of it as “Shark Tank” meets Business 101.

For six student business teams at Cal State L.A., a rigorous selection and training process will culminate on Thursday evening with a chance to win cash prizes and funding for their business start-ups. Each team will pitch an innovative business idea to a panel of judges as part of the 4th annual Business Pitch competition.

The ideas range from affordable three-dimensional appendages for child amputee victims to an app that enables basketball players to find the right pickup games, based on their skill levels.

The students refined their ideas and pitches during weeks of meetings with potential customers and training sessions at the Nongshim Innovation Lab in the College of Business and Economics (CBE).

“It was a life changing experience,” student Jose Rubio said. “You actually learn more about a business when you try to create one. It gets you ready for the real world.”

His team is working on “Erbantrails,” a service that would use social events to connect international students with each other and help them feel at home.

Business Pitch 2015 began in March, when applications were accepted from students across Cal State L.A.

The students formed about 30 teams and were trained in developing ideas and formulating business pitches under a program coordinated by Barney Santos, an entrepreneur and Cal State L.A. alumnus. Business Pitch is sponsored by Nongshim America, Ace Fence Company, The Boeing Company and the California Small Business Development Center. The event is being presented by the CBE and the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. 

Santos said students were trained in “lean methodology,” which relies on scientific methods to shorten product and business development cycles to become more efficient with time, money and resources. Students also learned to create agile business models, which can change depending on input from potential customers. The idea, he said, is to spur innovation and job creation.

“You can either go out and get a job after you graduate, or you can create one,” Santos said.

In early April, teams pitched their ideas to a panel of judges that included University professors and outside business experts. The panel selected the six teams that will be making their pitches Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in the Annenberg Sciences Complex Lecture Hall, Wing B, Room 132. The event will be like a dialed-down version of “Shark Tank,” the popular TV show featuring budding entrepreneurs who pitch ideas to potential investors.Students practice for the Business Pitch

A pre-pitch speaker event will begin at 4:15 p.m. on "Green Economy Entrepreneurial Successes and Innovations from the Latino Community” by Graciela Tiscareño-Sato, author of “Latinnovating: Green American Jobs and the Latinos Creating Them.”

On a recent afternoon, students huddled in the Nongshim Lab and honed their final pitches for Thursday’s competition. 

Junior Jonathan Nimis stood at a drawing board as he pointed to charts and talked about his team’s “Heatcheck” app, which would match pickup basketball players to games on neighborhood courts.

At first, the app was envisioned to be simply location based. But after talking to basketball players, Nimis said, his team realized that the app needed to include a rating system to allow players to find games at their skill levels.

“Based on that,” he told the student entrepreneurs, “they’ll be able to see the courts and match them to their abilities.”

Photos: At the top, student Jonathan Nimis practices his "Heatcheck" app pitch. At the bottom, Business Pitch 2015 Coordinator Barney Santos, standing by the computer screen, coaches students on their presentations. (Credit: J. Emilio Flores/Cal State L.A.)


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