Student entrepreneurs to pitch business ideas in Chicago

October 29, 2012

competitionUW-Whitewater will send six students - more than any other university - to compete in the National Elevator Pitch Competition Nov. 1 - 3 in Chicago.

The event, run by the Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization, is the largest elevator pitch competition in the nation, offering students a unique opportunity to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges and win up to $3,500.

"It's extraordinary. Ten percent of all competitors are UW-Whitewater students," said William Dougan, Irvin L. Young Professor of Entrepreneurship and adviser of the UW-Whitewater CEO chapter. "It's indicative of the strong program here that attracts talented entrepreneurs."

The elevator pitch competition requires students to sell their business idea to someone in a very limited time frame - in this case, the time it takes for a short elevator ride. Past participants have received national exposure and have gone on to gain new customers, partners and investors in their businesses.

From websites to social media to mini-helicopters, UW-Whitewater students' ideas are varied and sophisticated.

Haley Cymbalak, a freshman from Madison, will pitch The Boyfriend Store, a website offering social support and merchandise advice to boyfriends.

"We offer them suggested products categorized by events, such as holidays and anniversaries, and type of girlfriend, such as sporty or preppy," Cymbalak said. "We also have a date idea blog so they know what to do for their next date, instead of the usual dinner and a movie. It is a user-friendly website that will save boyfriends the difficulty of figuring out what their girlfriend really wants."

Reis Ennis and Enrique Gandara, also freshmen from Madison, co-founded the website, which is live, but still in its early design stage:

Mitchell Fiene, a freshman from Prairie du Sac, has taken his business idea to the skies after finding a solution to a common farming problem.

"Crop scouting is very costly and inefficient - spending hours in the fields to detect insect infestations or analyze nutrient-deficient plants," Fiene said. "There had to be a better way."

The answer was a quadcopter - a four-rotor helicopter with a wingspan of two feet. Equipped with a video camera and flown via remote control or a GPS-guided path, the quadcopter flies over farmland, sending back live pictures of the crops. The video can then be reviewed by an agronomist for analysis.

"Five years ago, this wouldn't have been a viable product," Fiene said. "Now, parts are inexpensive enough that it's affordable for farmers."

Michael Merrill, a senior from Beaver Dam, created GraSeati (rhymes with graffiti), a social media site for seats at sporting and other events. 

"Comments, memories and photos can be uploaded to a seat page, creating a history of the seat, including who sat there and who proposed there," Merrill said. The site can also track things like proximity to food sellers or the probability of catching foul balls.

Touly Vang, a freshman from Greenfield, is looking to make transactions safer for Craigslist users.

"My business service acts as a destination location and certification site for Craigslist so there is no contact between the buyer and seller," Vang said. "It eliminates the time hassle of driving all the way across a city or county and eliminates the crime factor."

Greg Heal, a sophomore from Brookfield, will pitch his BookWurm service, which allows readers to swap their print books for digital versions at discounted prices.

"This digital book conversion will create a perpetual circle of benefits for book publishers, customers and literacy programs around the world," Heal said.

Trevor Marks, a junior from Oconomowoc, created a mobile application that makes it easier for people to communicate and connect at events like sports games or concerts. He's looking forward to presenting his idea at nationals.

"I've been very entrepreneurial minded and ultimately this opportunity may be a channel to my biggest goal I have in life after graduation, which is to never have 'a job,' " Marks said. "I truly do value working hard, but I value the aspect of building something you can call your own even more so, and you naturally find this with running your own business."

For the complete list of elevator pitch finalists, visit:


Sara Kuhl

Jeff Angileri