By Polly Lynn
KILLINGTON — A panel of experienced businessmen and women from various fields and expertise, all of whom are entrepreneurs themselves, gathered at the Grand Hotel this past Tuesday, May 24, to hear Green Mountain College students pitch entrepreneurial product ideas. Panelists imagined they had $1 million to invest (or not) in the products and were asked to explain their reasoning after the pitches. Students pitched five unique products in teams of two-to-five students.
“The capstone of the course is this competition,” said Chris Coughlin, adjunct instructor for New Ventures (a.k.a. the entrepreneurship class) at GMC Resort Management School in Killington and the lodging controller and budget manager for Killington and Pico Resorts. “It’s loosely based around the show ‘Shark Tank,’” Coughlin added.
About 40 students, faculty members and members of the community attended the competition, Tuesday. Panelists included:
- Mike Solimano, president and general manager of Killington Resort and Pico Mountain
- Scott Harrison, director of food and beverage at Killington Resort
- Al Wakefield, former Avon executive and partner in an executive search firm
- Bob Charlebois, vice of the board of directors for GMC and a managing partner of Harborside Energy (solar developer)
- Michelle Nelson, chief financial officer of Vt. Electric Company (VELCO)
Frank Pauzé, managing director of Killington School of Resort Management, aided in questioning each student presentation. Also in attendance was Robert (Bob) W. Allen, who was recently named the eighth president of Green Mountain College. He succeeds Dr. Paul Fonteyn, the college’s president for the past eight years. Allen will officially assume the presidency on July 1.
For the past 12 weeks, Coughlin’s students have been crafting their unique products. Each team had a prototype of that product, a business plan, a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), a marketing plan, and a financial analysis in excel, Coughlin explained. All these elements were incorporated into the PowerPoint pitch presentations.
After each team asked the panel of “investors” for the money they had determined they needed for start-up, there was a Q&A, “which is where it really gets fun,” said Coughlin. “The panel grills them and they have to think on their feet… box their way out of the corner, it can get tough!”
The five products presented were:
- Talking Trashcan (a trashcan that speaks when items are inserted)
- Fusion Sok’r (drink mixing water gun)
- The Rough Jacket (dog jacket with LED lights and GPS tracking)
- Smart Bucket (ski helmet with four cameras for virtual reality/360 imaging)
- The Cold One (wearable bottle opener)
Judges were asked to score each pitch on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the best) on a rubric with the following 10 questions: Was the product something you can realistically see in the marketplace given proper funding? Was the product interesting even if it was something YOU may not purchase for yourself? Were the presenters clear and convincing? Did you have a full grasp of what they are trying to sell? Did the financials make sense? Was the marketing plan adequate? Were the product’s benefits (product differentiation) clearly communicated? Did the handouts and prototypes help their presentation? How was the overall presentation? Was the “investment proposal” presented worthwhile for both parties?
After the five presentations the panel left the room to deliberate and choose a winner. When they came back, each team, once again, stood up to receive feedback and hear each panelists explain whether they would invest in their product, how much, and on what terms.
Some of the judges’ concerns included the durability of the products, the novelty and utility as well as the competition in the marketplace, the price point, and the terms for their investment.
At the end of the night, Mike Solimano announced the competition winner. “This is the sixth year, I believe, and the products and presentations are better than past years,” Solimano said. “All presentations were rock solid.”
The panel awarded third place to the Fusion Sok’R team, second place to Rough Jacket and the winner of the 2016 Entrepreneur Awards was Talking Trash, a team made up of Sarah Carmody, Quinn Schray, Miranda Riley and Mike Bouffard.
The initial idea for Talking Trash came from Quinn Schray, but the project took a lot of teamwork, the team explained collectively after receiving the award.
“Seeing all the trash made me want to do something about it. Something sustainable. So I came up with this idea of a talking trashcan to encourage folks to pick up and to recycle,” said Schray.
When asked if they had talked about any plans to try and take their winning idea to market, Bouffard said, “It’d be cool, but no.” His teammates agreed. But the students were quick to note that the experience made them more confident in their ability to become an entrepreneur.