Western’s very own Shark Tank: 3rd annual Pitch Party

Every great idea must start somewhere, and what better place to start than right here on campus?

On Thursday, Nov. 9, the student organization Encouraging Potential through Innovation and Collaboration (EPIC) will be hosting their 3rd Annual Pitch Party. It will be held in the UC Theater at 6 p.m. It is free to attend, and it isn’t only for business students. Students of all majors are invited to participate in the event, either by pitching their idea or watching in the audience. Dr. Wendy Cagle, Assistant Professor in the School of Marketing, is working with Dr. Yue Hillon, Associate Professor of Management, to sponsor the event.

Entrepreneur pitching her idea to the panel of judges on the TV Show, Shark Tank. The Pitch Party will follow a similar format. Photo courtesy of Emory News Center

“We started this a few years back, and one of the things we wanted to do was increase the opportunities for students to be able to present in front of an audience,” said Cagle. “Presentation skills are one of the most important things that business people can have, and not only will the Pitch Party give people the way to get their ideas out there but it also helps students to practice pitching and talking in front of an audience to convince people that their ideas are the best.”

The event is structured around a three-minute thesis presentation and students are allowed one slide as they present their idea. In front of a live audience and a panel of judges. In these three minutes, presenters talk about things like their market, the essence of the business, what their plans are for their prize money, and what their next step is.

Each student pitching an idea is paired with a faculty mentor. This mentor helps them to build their idea from the beginning to the point where they’re ready to pitch it and know what to do with the prize money if they win it. Participants in the event are assigned a mentor that can truly provide the expertise to help them—for example, a student with a nonprofit pitch may be paired with a mentor that is a high-ranked employee in a nonprofit organization.

“[Students] will be connected one-on-one with a faculty member that will help them with building that model, and maybe determining what their next steps will be,” said Cagle. “They are there to help in leading them down the path that is their personal dream and their personal idea. And I find that they get so into that, because they’ve thought about this idea for a long time, they think it will work, and now they might get a little bit of support and encouragement to move forward.”

However, these mentors are not judges, and no judges are allowed to be mentors. All six judges are individuals on the College of Business board, Western Carolina alumni, or local business owners. The dean of the College of Business, Dr. Darrell F. Parker, is  the head of the judging committee and breaks the tying vote.

The judges aren’t the only people who get to decide which pitch they believe is best. The Pitch Party includes a People’s Choice Awards, where the audience votes for the idea they liked best.

The People’s Choice Award wins a $50 gift certificate to Wal-Mart. First place prize gets $500, second place gets $300, and third place prize gets $200. With a total of $1,000 between the top three winners, the money for each is enough to start the business process for their idea. The funding for the money comes from Dr. Joe Lakatos, the Wesley R. Elingberg Distinguished Professor of Business Innovation, and Dr. Angela Dills, WCU professor of Economics and the Gimelstob-Landry Distinguished Professor for Regional Economic Development.

Participant interactions with the judges are not only allowed, but also encouraged. With a judge’s panel consisting of business leaders who want to connect with WCU students, the right networking could propel a student into a successful career after graduation.

“That’s another one of those skills, not just presenting, but networking that’s the other skill we would really like to help students work with,” said Cagle. “It’s just like Shark Tank, now those people have the ability, and the money, and the network to move whoever they chose forward. So, it’s perhaps building on that same concept.”

Past winners of the Pitch Party have moved forward in their own innovative works. The creators of one product, a restaurant tip-managing program called Tipster, were invited to audition to be on ABC’s Shark Tank. The winner of the competition last year consisted of three students with an app for a model train business, and this year they’re set to make an estimated quarter of a million dollars.

Will anyone this year live up to that success? Come and see for yourself this Thursday and cast your vote for the People’s Choice winner!