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Students Pitch Business Ideas to Industry Leaders at University Competition

Monday, November 20, 2017

Tapping the entrepreneurial spirit at St. John’s, the College of Professional Studies (CPS) launched its first Pitch Johnny Competition, allowing students to pitch their business ideas to industry professionals and compete for a grand prize.

The daylong competition took place on Saturday, November 11, in the new, cutting-edge CPS Innovation Lab on the Queens, NY, campus. Students competed in five categories: freshmen and sophomores, juniors and seniors, women, veterans, and graduate students. It was open to students from all six of St. John’s schools and colleges.

Industry leaders visited the campus to evaluate students’ ideas for entrepreneurial initiatives. Concepts were judged on their potential for success in a real-world business setting.

“We started marketing the event in early September, with the hope that we could spark the entrepreneurial creativity and energy of St. John’s students,” said Kevin James ’11C, ’13MBA, Assistant Dean and Associate Director of Operations for CPS. “We succeeded. Today, we have over 34 participants competing for a chance to be crowned the Pitch Johnny 2017 champion.” 

Student pitches were limited to three minutes, no power point presentations or cue cards permitted. Ideas included a prototype of a self-cleaning car rim; an app to make life as a college student easier; an anti-aging chemical; a magazine with a target readership of people who care about sustainability issues; and a start-up business called “Stuff Your Dorm”—a holistic shopping experience for college freshmen that rivals IKEA.

The keynote address was delivered by Steve Farella ’77SVC, Principal, VFL Investment & Advisory, and Chair of the CPS Advisory Board. He urged students to learn from failure. “At one point in my career, I created my own agency with no money, no backers, no offices, and no client,” said Mr. Farella, a lifelong entrepreneur in the media agency space and the event’s underwriter. “I’m not claiming to be the smartest guy in the room, but one thing I am is a successful marketer.”

Judges included faculty, but many also came to St. John’s competition from outside industries ranging from media to finance, from public relations to advertising. Cash prizes for winners were $600 for first place, $300 for second place, and $150 for third place.

“I was impressed by all of the pitches,” said Nicholas Plakoris ’77SVC, ’84MBA, an Advisory Board member. An adjunct professor at St. John’s, Mr. Plakoris was also a judge. “Competition would be intense for all of these young entrepreneurs out in the marketplace, but they certainly have highly innovative ideas.”

Charles Nguyen, a junior majoring in Legal Studies, invented “Stir it Up”—a flavored coffee stirrer business. “We want to save time and money for the average American. Life is crazy, people are working long hours, and getting access to a delicious flavored coffee shouldn’t be so difficult.”

Charles noted that lines at Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts are becoming increasingly long, so his solution is a flavored stick that can be swirled around in a hot cup of black coffee for a fraction of the price of flavored coffee from major coffee houses. He is currently seeking a patent for his invention.

“I’m extremely proud of all of the students who presented today,” said Katia Passerini, Ph.D., Dean of CPS. “While this is our first competition, we are hoping to connect with additional academic and business partners next year.”

Steven Verdile, a senior and Graphic Design major, won first place for “Stuff Your Dorm.” He says he entered the Pitch Johnny competition to get feedback from different perspectives. “I was excited to get into the finals and once I got up to give my pitch,” said Steven, “I just tried to get into an entrepreneurial mindset and demonstrate the passion and time I’ve put into this project.”

Timothy Turane, a senior and veteran who is majoring in Public Relations, created Turane Enterprises LLC, and won second place. His proprietary business idea meets the specific needs of an attorney, and as such, Timothy would only comment on his projections, “Based on my target market, I have the ability to generate a significant amount of revenue in my first year.” 

Freshman Ariel Metayer took home third place with her business, Arie's Belle Miel (ABM), an organic hair product that can restore damaged hair and even assist with hair loss. The product, made by women in Haiti and shipped to the United States, is part of a larger microfinance initiative intended to boost the Haitian economy.

“People love my product and give it great reviews,” said Arie. “My advice to other entrepreneurs is to have faith in yourself and believe in your idea, and you will prosper.”