Students take part in Washburn Pitch Competition

The Washburn Pitch Competition is underway as five teams are preparing for the final round and a chance to win up to $8,000.

In its fifth year, the Washburn Entrepreneurship Pitch Competition began with its knockout round Nov. 8 in the Memorial Union. About 50 teams made up a total of about 80 students that entered the competition this year. Each entry saw students give a three-minute pitch for a new business, product, service or social venture. Although conducted by the School of Business and its entrepreneurship department, entries were open to any Washburn University and Washburn Institute of Technology student.

“We started an entrepreneurship and innovation major in the School of Business… in 2014,” said David Price, associate professor of marketing. “So what this pitch competition does is it complements our new major, although it’s open to any student.”

Price said this competition is useful for these students in different ways.

“For entrepreneurship majors, it’s a very important skill to have,” Price said. “To be able to pitch [and] present your business idea and sell, it’s designed to sell stakeholders. Most of the time you think of investors who are going to give money to your business, but it could be potential partners for your business. It could be potential staff that you’re looking to hire. It could be convincing your wife that it’s a good idea to quit your job and start a business. The art of the pitch is very important for entrepreneurs.”

Price said that by having the competition on campus, it allows for a friendly and welcoming environment but still challenging by being outside the classroom.

Price also said that it was important to open the competition to any Washburn student and not just business students.

“We think any Washburn student from any discipline can benefit from understanding entrepreneurship and a pitch,” Price said. “At any part of your life, you’re selling something, whether it’s selling for your business or even if you have a position in an existing business, we want students to be entrepreneurial in a larger business and take an idea.”

Price said that students can use these principles to apply to anywhere they might be working. Additionally, the goal is to create an entrepreneurial culture.

“By having this competition, with great prize money, which is a hook as well, we get students thinking about this so they’re looking for opportunities all the time,” Price said. “It may come later in life. A lot of students don’t want to start a business while they’re in school certainly, and even when they get out of school they might have student debt or they just need to get a job. So, actually starting a business might come several years down the road so we want to give them the skill set so when that moment comes they’ll be ready.”

Prizes, ranging from $1,000 for fifth place up to $8,000 for first place, come from sponsor Go Topeka, an economic development organization.

“When we started our entrepreneurship program, they approached us and said ‘this is a good idea, we want to develop entrepreneurs,’” Price said. “They start businesses, they hire people [and] they make positive change.”

Price said that Washburn really benefits from this organization and the money they give for the prizes too, and in some cases might have a leg up on other schools and competitions because of it.

“There’s a national pitch competition that’s put on by an organization and one of our students competed in it,” Price said. “That’s the best students from around the world, not just nationally, that come and compete in it. That winner gets $5,000, whereas our winner gets $8,000.”

Not only do the finalists get prize money, but the competition gives out two other prizes for specific entries.

“We’ve also got prize money for the top Washburn Tech to try and get them involved,” Price said. “We’ve also got $1,000 for the top freshman entry, so when students just come on to campus, we get them early and get them involved in this entrepreneurial culture at Washburn that we’re trying to develop.”

One of the finalists for the competition is senior management, finance and entrepreneurship and innovation Jim Henry. Henry has competed in previous competitions as well.

“My freshman year, my intro. to business class required it for the end of the year project, so my roommate and I actually presented for that one,” Henry said. “We didn’t do so hot. It was a requirement so we didn’t take it too seriously.”

This year, Henry and his partner, Andrew Foreman, who Henry worked with last year and took second place in the competition, pitched an idea for raising crickets and creating edible cricket powder for humans to eat.

Henry is glad that Washburn has opportunities like this specifically as a way to connect with business people in the community.

“Just the other day when I had my first round of pitching, I talked to some of the judges afterward,” Henry said. “I got some business cards. It’s a good networking opportunity.”

Price said that the networking opportunities extend beyond the relationship between business persons and students.

“Just by creating this buzz with students, they get together and get to be around like-minded students,” Price said. “There’s a certain type that wants to get into these events… They tend to be go-getters.”

Price said that these students can benefit from each others’ knowledge and strengths.

“So you might get one student who thinks they have a great idea and maybe they kind of get it going [but] it’s the technical side of it they don’t understand,” Price said. “Getting these kids together, they might find somebody from Washburn Tech who can actually make it for them.”

Price said that other ways students can get connected is by using local organizations and businesses like 712 Innovations, which gives people access to resources they might not have otherwise.

Henry also said that he feels like this competition is good for the Topeka community as well.

“In general, we’re going along with the rebuild of Topeka,” Henry said. “The mood in Topeka in the last couple of years has been promoting innovation, bringing in new businesses, try[ing] to boost morale in the city. I think Washburn’s kind of following suit with that.”

The finals for competition will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15. in the Bradbury Thompson Alumni Center.