TIA's Annual Shark Tank Competition

Colgate hosted the Shark Tank competition on Saturday, April 6 during which TIA students pitched their businesses to notable alumni for prize money.

Even though Colgate does not have an official business program, our passionate alumni have found a way to foster the entrepreneurial spirit among students through Thought Into Action (TIA), a program that provides mentorship and funding to aspiring entrepreneurs. This weekend, students and alumni gathered in the Hall of Presidents to celebrate the ventures of TIA members with an alumni panel discussion, Shark Tank style presentations by students and a networking session.

The event opened with attendees exploring the variety of booths showcasing the business ventures of TIA members, such as EverTights, which sells comfortable, lasting and sustainable hosiery tights, Strata Printing, an emerging 3D printing company, ScanCard, a mobile ID platform replacing physical university ID cards and UCan, a non-profit aimed at improving recycling performance by incentivizing recycling through donations toward community needs.

The UCan project started completely differently but with the same mission of incentivizing better environmental practices through making a social impact. TIA and all the mentors helped me figure out the logistics and helped me make my idea and what I was so passionate about applicable to something that can help people,” sophomore and co-founder of UCan Christina Weiler said.

While guests drifted among the booths and learned about each budding company, the founders of White Tea Design, ScanCard, EverTights and Goodworker 360 went on stage and gave brief pitches of their brand to the audience to increase publicity and prove the value of their venture. Each presenting student was confident, articulate and professional in their presentation, a testament to the quality of their work and the guidance they received.

After one of the pitches, Bob Gold ’80 led a panel discussion comprised of three alumni: Alexandra Thompson ’02, founder and CEO of Persifor, a lifestyle brand that produces wrinkle-resistant, travel-focused clothing; Dan Hurwitz ’86, founder and CEO of Raider Hill, an advisory firm and Denniston Reid ’94, the Chief Schools and Innovation Officer at Excellence Community Schools, a charter management organization. The panel discussed the impact of TIA on both students and the alumni involved, the role of a Colgate education in entrepreneurship and tips on entering the business world. Each alumni provided the unique perspective of their industry and showed how a liberal arts degree could be applied to starting a business.

The main event of the day was the “Shark Tank”-style presentations of four Colgate students to the alumni panelists in competition for a first place prize of $2,500, a second place prize of $1,500 and two third place prizes of $500. Although there was no Mark Cuban or Mr. Wonderful among the panelists, the alumni who participated have years of experience in building companies and were able to provide thought-provoking questions and constructive criticism to the presenters. First up was senior Chris Cervizzi, who created the Concussion Survival Kit, a toolkit that helps student-athletes through the symptoms of a concussion. The project was inspired by his own experience of suffering the physical and emotional pain of a concussion. Valet Seller, a full-service selling solution that helps companies looking to scale their business online went second. The venture started out as two siblings, (sophomore Maya Dunne and senior Kevin Dunne) selling products from their garage, and said they hoped the prize money would help them grow. Next was Edge, led by sophomore Jack Ablon, a private aviation concierge service that makes flying private a more affordable and less painful process. Last was NaSo by senior Uyi Omorogbe, a clothing company that produces minimalist African-inspired clothing while using part of the profits to renovate schools in rural African villages. Each presenter who entered the “tank” was tested on their quick-thinking and business knowledge by answering questions from the panelists, which were focused mainly on financials and how the students planned to grow and diversify their brands. After the students gave their presentations and faced the questions and critiques of the “sharks,” the presenters and the audience were forced to wait with bated breath for the results.

During this time, the 2019 Entrepreneur of the Year title was awarded to an unfortunately absent Robert Johnson ’94. Just as his video tribute was concluding, the sharks returned and announced that Concussion Survival Kit was awarded the first place prize, NaSo received second, and Valet Seller and Edge tied for third. Although the rewards were not equal, each venture received extra capital to grow their businesses and walked away one step closer to achieving the dream they have all worked so tirelessly to achieve.

The professionalism, detail and success in each business participating in this event proved just how far the program has come. Membership and resources have increased substantially since the program’s inception, but so has the quality of the mentoring process.

“I think our process of mentoring has become a lot more refined so that the end product, meaning what the students get over the course of the year, has become really valuable. Because I did a lot of early stage investment and private equity and made a lot of mistakes myself, I always had this view that if there is a way of sharing my experiences and also advising students, then maybe I could help both for-profit and social entrepreneurs be a little more effective and a little more efficient,” TIA co-founder Bob Gold ’80 said. “A lot of these students really are trying to change the world, or a small piece of it, and knowing that we’ve gotten better at being helpful is the way I’ve seen TIA get better over time.”

Many college students have a desire to change the world around them, and TIA helps students achieve this goal through starting their own business. Whether it be recycling, concussion management or sustainable clothing, these young hopefuls have found a way to make their mark on the business world with the helping hand of alumni.

Contact Rose Corcoran at rcorcoran@colgate.edu.

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