Posted on Friday, February 10, 2012
Contestants on ABC's "The Shark Tank" had better watch out - Marcela Melara '12, Samuel Singer '13 and Sara Wroblewski '13 could give them a run for their money. In an unprecedented HWS competition, the three students will go head to head in a battle of entrepreneurial ingenuity during "The Pitch" competition.
The Centennial Center for Leadership has waged the competition which offers the winner $10,000 to fund the launch of his or her one-of-a-kind idea. "The Pitch" will be held on Wednesday, Feb. 29, at 7 p.m. in the Vandervort Room, and all are invited to watch as this exciting event unfolds.
Having made their way through steep competition - narrowed down from an initial pool of dozens of applicants to make it to semi-finals - each of the finalists has worked closely with an alum mentor and other successful entrepreneurs to perfect his or her idea. Now, in this last stage of competition, the students will be put to the most challenging trial of all - "pitching" their ideas to a panel of expert judges, proving that they have what it takes to make a dream a reality.
Students will be judged on their ability to tell their stories and pitch their ideas, as well as demonstrate that their proposals are fully developed and well thought-out. The judging panel will be comprised of Hollis S. Budd, executive director of the Max and Marian Farash Charitable Foundation; Terry McGuire '78, co-founder and general partner of Polaris Venture Partners; Wendy Puriefoy '71, the president of the Public Education Network; Javier Saralegui '80, the founder and former president and chief operating officer of Univision.com; and Mark Zupan, dean of the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester and professor of economics and public policy.
"We would be proud to give any one of these finalists the grant," says Susan Pliner, director of the Centennial Center for Leadership. "These presentations will really draw the best out of these already exceptional students."
Melara's proposal focuses on creating an eco-technology business, and developing a device that helps identify recyclable items. She has named the device ELARA: Environmental Liaison and Automated Recycling Assistant. Embedded into a kiosk, ELARA would scan and sort products using an ARM touch-screen embedded computer with barcode scanner, card swipe, and various sensors to communicate with a web server data repository. With ELARA, Melara hopes to make recycling easier, as well as to educate people on recycling and proper garbage sorting.
Singer will present judges with his idea for an all-natural chewing gum called TRAIN. Comprised of a mere four ingredients - chicle, sugar, water and flavoring - the gum will be biodegradable and come in packaging made of all-natural materials. TRAIN's mission states that "TRAIN will not only offer a great tasting, environmentally conscious gum, but when buying a pack of TRAIN you will also directly support farmers, their families, and their communities."
Wroblewski's proposal, One Bead, is a passion project that began last summer during a trip to study glass work in Africa. While in Nairobi, Kenya, Wroblewski joined a local glassblower in supporting the Oloosikron Government Primary School, working to design a glass bead created from recycled windows, bottles and materials easily found cast aside in Nairobi. Each time someone purchases a charm, the proceeds help to fund the schools acquisition of locks, books and general supplies that are needed.
The students are excited. "It's the presentation that most distinguishes this competition from any other entrepreneurial project," says Singer. "This is what sets it apart from just writing a proposal and handing it in."
"The Pitch brought a whole new dimension project. Going through the process gave me a new way of thinking about it," says Melara. "I can't wait to see where this project takes me."
"I'm really excited to share my story, because so much of it comes from a true passion of mine, and that is really hard to get across in writing," explains Wroblewski. "I'm excited to use my voice, to say how I feel, because it's the voice that strengthens a story."