Pitch Johnny Competition Showcases Student Entrepreneurs

November 29, 2021

Students creating practical applications of what they learn in the classroom is a hallmark of the work being done at The Lesley H. and William L. Collins College of Professional Studies (CCPS) and the Farella Innovation Laboratory. For the last five years, the Pitch Johnny competition has inspired pioneering and strategic thinking, as well as a healthy sense of competition among students in CCPS.

The finals were held on November 20 on the Queens, NY, campus, with students presenting both in person and online to a panel of judges consisting of faculty members and industry professionals. Students from St. John’s, as well as students from Tottenville High School in Staten Island, NY, competed. 

Kevin T. James ’11C, ’13MBA, Assistant Dean and Director of Fiscal and Administrative Affairs for CCPS, organized the online component of the event and noted the hybrid model was developed to better comply with CDC guidelines on such events. “We wanted to remain as inclusive as possible and felt that if managed well, the high school division would be able to appear on par with the in-person University student division.” 

He added that the high school division started in 2019 as a way to expose high school students of New York City to the innovation programs at St. John’s. “These students are thrilled to be a part of this competition because it gives them real business pitching experience. It allows them the chance to feel like they are on Shark Tank. It’s a unique opportunity for them,” Dean James offered.    

Judges for the competition included: Emese Ivan, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Health and Human ServicesAugusta Sanfilippo ’85SVC, ’94MBA, Managing Director, Investment Banking Information Technology, Barclays Bank; Neil Feinstein, Associate Professor, Mass Communication; John DiMarco Jr., Associate Professor, Mass Communication; RoHika Hardas ’00CPS, ’06MBA, Lecturer in Finance, Siena College; and Carmine P. Gibaldi, Ed.D. ’77C, ’79 M.B.A., Professor, Administration and Economics

Luca Iandoli, Associate Dean for Global and Online Programs, served as Master of Ceremonies and organizer for the event.  William D. Reisel, Ph.D., Professor of Management in The Peter J. Tobin College of Business encouraged the participation of the high school division, and served as liaison with Mr. Steve Saliski of Tottenville High School.

In addition to a $1,000 first prize for the college students and $500 for the high school students, the winners receive priority access to the Global Development Entrepreneurship Program

“Our students never cease to amaze with their innovative and creative product ideas,” stressed Glenn Gerstner, Ed.D. ’81SVC, Dean, Lesley H. and William L. Collins Distinguished Chair, and Associate Professor, Division of Sport Management. “Given our course offerings and faculty involvement in entrepreneurship and innovation, we feel that we are the perfect host for this competition. We are equally thrilled to include the next generation of innovators in the high school category of the competition, who are ready to enthusiastically present their creative ideas to our judges.”

This year’s competition featured an online component and an in-person competition. Students developed video pitches, competing throughout the semester to earn seed money to launch and hopefully grow their innovations. Selected video pitches were judged by an online popular vote during a two-week period. There were three divisions: for-profit, social entrepreneurship, and high school.

Business Analytics major Kayla Mohabir has always wanted to impact the lives of others; participating in Pitch Johnny was a vehicle for bringing those ideas to life. Kayla’s concept, a robotic dog named DAWN, was designed to positively impact the lives of children with special needs. “You truly don’t know what you are capable of until you try, and once you try, anything is possible.” Kayla’s project finished third in the for-profit division.

Brielle Simmons, a Legal Studies major, took first prize in the social entrepreneurship division with her concept, Bringing me Sunshine, a non-profit corporation whose mission is to combat homelessness and poverty by providing sustainable resources and programs to underprivileged children and families. “Statistics show that homeless children are more likely to miss school than their housed peers, leaving them at a greater risk of falling behind academically,” Brielle noted. 

“Unfortunately, the pandemic exacerbated these issues by propelling academics into a remote virtual learning setting, causing children who are experiencing homelessness and poverty to lack an equal opportunity to access education. As the Co-founder and Creative Director, I developed an environmental learning program specifically designed for disadvantaged children, to ensure that every child has access to education.”

All in One, an all-purpose makeup brush took first place in the for-profit division. Second place in for-profit went to E-Grocery, a program that allows students to shop from their dorms without navigating crowded aisles and lengthy cashier lines. Services include: going to the local grocery store, buying goods, and direct delivery to dorms, or an option for pickup at their booth on campus.

During his opening remarks, Dean Gerstner said the great thing about entrepreneurship “is that if your idea has value, somehow, some way, it will find its way to the market, and you’ll be able to succeed.” 

He added, “Risk taking, in any form, is always very desirable to employers. Even if you don’t win, the experience of creating your presentation, presenting in front of judges, listening to feedback—that is going to serve you well, whether you become an entrepreneur or go into a large organization.”