An elevator of success

CSB and SJU Entrepreneur Scholars win national awards

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March 2, 2012

By Ben Besasie '12

Seniors in the CSB/SJU Entrepreneur Scholars program won first, second, and third place at the National Entrepreneur Scholar Consortium Elevator Pitch Competition in Denver, Colo. on Feb. 25. 

Paul Marsnik, associate professor of global business leadership and entrepreneurship, is the faculty director of the Entrepreneur Scholars program. Marsnik teaches courses as a part of the program in entrepreneurial studies which preps the students for competitions like this.

"[Our students] executed nearly flawless pitches. To do that, you have to have a great idea, explain it clearly, then describe the opportunity, the competitive advantage, the target market and the financial model, all in 90 seconds," Marsnik said. 

Ten CSB and SJU students competed among 39 students. This is the first time a single Entrepreneur Scholars program has won all three prizes.

"It was one of the proudest moments in my 18 years as a professor at CSB/ SJU," Marsnik said. "Just getting one student in the top 3 is a big deal.  Achieving a clean sweep (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) is unheard of. It has never been done before and it is quite possible that it will never be done again."

Matt Wildenborg, SJU senior physics major, won first place. He presented his big idea: Knee Jerk - a new application of a revolutionary concept using body movements to generate electricity for charging personal technology tools. 

Lauren Witt, CSB senior social entrepreneurship major and owner of the new Student Art Store in St. Joseph won second place. She presented her big idea: A personalized camera rental service at ski resorts that outfits skiers and snowboarders with video cameras and provides a DVD of the videos after the rental is completed.

Jessie Niyongabo, SJU senior environmental studies major from Ethiopia, won third place. He presented the shared car partnership, WeCar, which CSB/SJU has with the company Enterprise.

Wildenborg explained that the design of the competition left the judges with a lot of subjectivity beyond the students' control. CSB and SJU students spent numerous breaks in their hotel room throwing around ideas and developing them as a team. They combined group cohesion, creativity, and the overall ability to have fun with this opportunity. 

"We showed that we were there to compete, give it our all, and stand representative of our school," Wildenborg said. "This was a huge accomplishment for our team." 

All three winners prepared for a competition and beyond, gaining promising skills to use in the future. Wildenborg described that a well-rehearsed elevator pitch is important when only having a small window of time to convince a listener of who you are, your purpose, and what makes your idea unique and competitive. 

"Whether seeking an investor, a job, or just in pass-by conversation, a well-executed elevator pitch can turn those precious few seconds into a lifetime of opportunities," Wildenborg said.