Business Plan Competition Returns to St. John’s

April 12, 2018

The James and Eileen Christmas Business Plan Competition and Pitch Event returned to The Peter J. Tobin College of Business on Friday, April 6 after a two-year hiatus. The return featured a wide array of entrepreneurial students pitching their ideas in a hyper-charged “Shark Tank”-like setting.

This year’s top honors and a prize of $5,000 went to Zachary Savino (Tobin) for his out of home advertising business called Sibyl Systems. Second place with a prize of $2,000 went to Zachary Piracha and Irfan Hoque (Pharmacy) for their business, RePill, which is an application and support network for pharmacy prescriptions. Third place and a prize of $1,000 went to Sydney Fucci (Tobin) for Homemade Health. 

A total of 14 business plans were presented to compete for six cash prizes. This year’s Competition introduced a two-part format that kicked off the evening with three-minute pitches by eight competitors. All audience members received ballots to vote for the best three pitches. The pitches and balloting were followed by six finalists who presented in a somewhat longer format lasting nine minutes each. The top plans were selected by a panel of five alumni and industry experts.

The Pitch Contest winners earned $500, $400, and $300 for first, second, and third place finishes, respectively. The first-place pitch went to SHE Muse, written by Khila James (College of Professional Studies).  The second-place finish was taken by Evgenia Vasilyeva and Taeyeop Lee for SafeSpace Studios (Tobin). The third-place pitch honor went to Megan Dempsey and Alisher Akhatov (Tobin) for MealFetch. 

Videos of the winners and runners-up discussing their plans and pitches may be viewed at

Conrado “Bobby” Gempesaw, Ph.D., President of St. John’s University, formally opened the competition by noting that “a key to success in entrepreneurship is to the leverage the lessons learned from mistakes.”

James Christmas ’70CBA, ’10HON and his wife, Eileen, have sponsored the Competition since 2010. Mr. Christmas served as one of the executive judges, along with; Kevin Reed ‘75C, chairman of the Tobin Board of Advisors; Stephen Distante ‘88CBA, Chief Entrepreneurial Officer of Vanderbilt Financial Group; Gregg Bishop, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Small Business Services; and Albert Bateh ‘16TCB, who won the 2016 Competition for his business, EZ-Net Hair Care. 

In his keynote address, Commissioner Bishop also addressed the topic of the entrepreneurship. “Our agency knows that entrepreneurs try to stretch a dollar and we want to empower 220,000 small businesses to succeed and those small businesses create the majority of jobs in the city,” he said. “Our goal is to award 30 percent of the budget of the city to small minority-owned and women-owned business enterprises.”

The Competition’s Director, William Reisel, Ph.D., Professor of Management, thanked the Christmases for their generous gift of building the next generation of business entrepreneurs.

“The Competition is made possible by the Christmas family because they wanted to come back to St. John’s and make an impact,” he said. “I think you will join me in acknowledging that nothing could be more prescient in today’s labor economic environment where disintermediation of jobs is occurring, and will continue to occur, as robots replace factory workers and e-trading replaces pit traders and Travelocity replaces travel agents.”

“Tonight, we celebrate the wisdom of the Christmas family for investing in entrepreneurs who become their own bosses and take charge of their careers.”