From shorts complete with built-in fanny pack to an affordable 3D printer, Aggies are coming up with new ideas and Texas A&M University encourages their ingenuity both through education and practice. One example is the university’s first-ever elevator pitch competition, a fun and fast-paced contest where students pitched their business startups to a panel of expert investors who judged which businesses would take home a variety of cash prizes, and a Grand Prize trip to pitch to investors in Silicon Valley.
In the business world, the term “elevator pitch” is used to describe a brief summary that explains an idea for a product, service or project in the short time it takes for an elevator ride, say 30-60 seconds.
Organized by Startup Aggieland, the university’s student-run business accelerator, the elevator pitch competition was sponsored by Silicon Valley Bank and hosted by Chris Westfall, the 2011 National Elevator Pitch Competition winner and coach for the ABC television show “Shark Tank.”
“In business, whoever tells the best story wins,” Westfall told the crowd at Rudder Theatre. Westfall, a former Hollywood stuntman, went on to describe how he made his business dreams come true by “going from the green room to the boardroom. As I changed my story, I was able to change my results.”
Special guest, former Texas A&M and NFL football player-turned-serial entrepreneur, Chris Valletta ’01, welcomed Aggie student entrepreneurs to pitch their startup ideas to a panel of experts that included high-level business executives, several of whom are former Texas A&M students.
One-by-one student teams pitched their ideas, often bringing their products on stage for display.
The grand prize-winning team was Aggi3D, founded by nuclear engineering Ph.D. candidate Will Sames and Master’s in electrical engineering student Nick Brennan. Both earned their bachelor’s degrees at Texas A&M and are working to launch their idea for an inexpensive, tabletop 3D printer that creates metal machine parts such as drill bits.
Often compared to the replicator on “Star Trek,” 3D printers are being used to create everything from working guns, musical instruments, toys and food to, maybe someday, replacement body parts. The machines work like two-dimensional printers, but instead of printing with ink, 3D printers create three-dimensional objects by layering sheets of material such as plastic or wood, or in the case of Aggi3D − metal.
Sames, who is from San Antonio, and Brennan of Shoreline, Wash., met as freshmen at Texas A&M and together took an interest in 3D printing technology. They noticed that the 3D printers available at reasonable costs to ordinary people all printed exclusively in plastic and often had quality and reliability issues.
“We came to the realization that there are no inexpensive metal printers on the market,” says Brennan. “The cheapest metal printing systems cost upwards of $500,000. When Will first suggested we try to build our own inexpensive metal 3D printer, I was a bit dubious, but as we investigated the technology further, it seemed more and more achievable.”
The team is currently working on a prototype and hopes to have a beta model ready in less than a year. “Our plan is to launch on a crowd-funding site like KickStarter with a fairly simple design and get it into the hands of hobbyists, enthusiasts and educators,” Brennan notes. “We hope to use revenue from this launch to fund the development of a much slicker, plug-and-play printer we can then use to target the mass market.”
As the grand prize winners, Sames and Brennan will be treated this summer to an expenses-paid trip to Silicon Valley, Calif., sponsored by Silicon Valley Financial Group. There they hope to further develop their business plan, set goals for product release and pitch for funding.
The first-place winner at the competition was Notequill, a software startup pitched by its CEO, computer science major Graham Leslie. Notequill is a software program that allows students to take notes, typed or handwritten, on a variety of devices and stores the information online in “the cloud” where classmates can share and contribute, and where documents, photos and files can never be lost. “We are bringing the Notequill platform to school districts to improve the ease of learning in their new ‘bring your own technology’ programs for students and teachers,” Leslie adds.
If you thought fanny packs were a thing of the past, senior finance major Kyler Ferris begs to differ. He placed second for his startup idea called Chutes Shorts which are shorts made out of a fast-drying, parachute-like fabric that feature an insertable, waterproof pouch to hold personal items.
And third place at the competition was awarded to university studies major Brian Lamb whose mission to provide clean water to people around the world has resulted in a not-for-profit bottled water organization called Replenish. For every bottle sold, the organization donates a water purification tablet that provides an individual with a liter of clean water. For every case sold, the organization donates a “life straw,” a portable filter that is worn like a necklace and can purify enough water to last a person three years. “Rather than donating water so that people are dependent, we give them the resources to clean the water they already have,” Lamb notes.
The winning teams, along with all the other competitors, are entrepreneurs-in-residence at Startup Aggieland, located in Texas A&M’s Research Park. Open to any Texas A&M student operating a business, with a strong business idea or who is simply curious about entrepreneurship, Startup Aggieland provides free business resources including workspace, mentoring and networking opportunities. A seed fund is available and every startup receives $24,000 in web hosting. Visit startupaggieland.tamu.edu to learn more and find out when the 2014 elevator pitch competition will occur.
Event coordinators included the Center for New Ventures and Entrepreneurship at Mays Business School. Prior to the competition, the student teams presented their pitches to members of the Aggie 100, an organization that recognizes and celebrates the 100 fastest growing Aggie-owned or Aggie-led businesses in the world.
About Mays Business School
Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,000 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.