Student entrepreneurs to compete for prize

Katelyn Boone

Contributing Writer


Over the next six months, teams of VCU students, faculty, staff and alumni will connect, innovate and present new ideas, concepts and technologies to prove to a panel of judges that their idea is one they simply can’t live without.

What sounds like the premise of a reality TV show is now an annual event at the university: VCU’s Venture Creation Competition.

The VCC is hosted by VCU’s da Vinci Center for Innovation. The da Vinci program brings together art, engineering and business students and gives them real-life product innovation problems to solve with companies.

Potential entrants packed an auditorium in Snead Hall for a question and answer session to learn about this year’s Venture Creation Competition. Photo by Jane Taylor.

During the competition, faculty, staff, alumni and local residents can all work on a team, but at least half of the team members must be enrolled at VCU. At the end of the project, the final presentation to the judges will be delivered solely by VCU students.

The contest is meant to give students experience in developing a business plan and pitching a concept. If they do well, the reward could be better than a passing grade.

The top prize gives teams $5,000 to make the winning team’s idea a reality. 2nd and 3rd place will receive $3,000 and $2,000, respectively, and two other finalist groups will get $1,000 apiece to help commercialize their concepts.

Jen Aranyi and Becky Moran are both VCU seniors in communication arts and participants at the da Vinci Center. They plan on developing a submission for the VCC together.

Aranyi said being involved with the da Vinci program is a great way to hit the ground running.

You sort of realize what it actually takes to run a business and start a venture,” she said. “It also helped me connect with people that I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Moran noted that the da Vinci Center turned her on to branding and marketing and said she enjoys working on those kinds of tasks.

“I wouldn’t know that if I wasn’t
doing projects all the time, she said.

The competition is entering its second year this fall and opened with a question and answer session for potential competitors. The Q-and-A included Kenneth Kahn, the Director of the da Vinci Center for Innovation and a number of the competitions judges: David Gallagher, CEO of Dominion Payroll Services; Darrell Jervey, CEO of  Worth Products Group; and Scott Tolleson, head of cable and media industries at Ericsson.

Much of the discussion encouraged students to seize opportunities and take advantage of what is available.

“Here’s your chance. Soak up everything you can (while in college),” said Gallagher, who served as a judge for last year’s competition. “People say that they’ll never use calculus later on, but guess what, you use those critical thinking skills, ability to interpret data, et. al.”

Last year, the inaugural VCU Venture Creation Competition included 40 teams made up of 87 student and non-student members. Kahn said he hopes this year’s competition will be even better than the last.

“VCU Venture is about students connecting with local professionals, peers and professors … (and creating) a culture that brings together ideas and innovation,” he said.

The winner from last year was the Quinn-Tyrell Corporation, made up of VCU Brandcenter students Katie Acosta, Brian Jang, Jerry Roback and Mena Xiong. Their concept was to enhance the in-home ice cream experience through uniquely flavored ice cream cones.

The judges instantly recall the team’s enthusiasm during the panel discussion.

“They had everything. They were passionate and they had a well-thought out plan,” Jervey said.

One new addition to the competition is the Alumni Pitch Slam, which will take place next April. The pitch slam is structured like a poetry slam, but with an audience of 12-15 local CEOs, professors and entrepreneurial gurus that will critique the presenter’s ability to persuade the experienced panel. The event will be open exclusively to VCU alumni with a top prize of $1,000 to invest in the pitch.

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