Record number of judges take part in Venture Pitch Competition

More than 80 business leaders listen, question competitors

A finalist group presents to judges
A finalist group presents to judges Photo: Jay Murdock

More than 80 business leaders listen, question competitors

More than 100 students including more than 30 different majors presented their business ideas at the spring Venture Pitch Competition on Thursday night at the Farmer School of Business – an impressive number. But another impressive number was the more than 80 angel investors, venture capitalists, accelerator directors, and ecosystem builders from across the nation who came to listen to those ideas.

That was a lot of eyes on Kamilah Dotson, a senior social justice studies major pitching her company, KCD Cosmetics. “It was a little intimidating at first, but then you think, ‘Listen, they can only ask one question at a time.’ I just took a deep breath and said, ‘Let’s do it,’ she explained. “If you’re going to pitch, at some point you have to commit to going all the way or just not do it.”

It worked out for Dotson, who won first place and $5,000 for her startup that focuses on makeup for women of color. “I’m so excited about this. The funding will help us buy more product to sell this summer,” she said. “This is my third pitch night through this program, and it gets better and better each time.”

The event is the culmination of the Entrepreneurship 401 New Ventures course. Among the judges Thursday were nearly a dozen startup founders who came through the class during their time at Miami. “Such practice-based, experiential learning experiences unleash the entrepreneurial mindset, helping students develop both the technical skills and emotional intelligence to enhance the entrepreneurial value and impact our graduates have on society,” Institute of Entrepreneurship chair Dr. Tim Holcomb explained.

The other finalists were:

“What a tremendous experience for everyone who participated, from the students to the judges to the broader community,” Rucker Park Capital general partner and 2011 Farmer School grad Wes Tang-Wymer noted. “I think it highlights a lot of the things that we’re doing academically that give students a real flavor for what it’ll be like outside these walls.”

The 23 teams first were split into five rooms and pitched before a panel of judges, who selected the best idea from each room and sent that team on to the finals. Then the finalists made their pitch again in front of all the judges.

“It takes a lot of guts to stand up in front of these people and make a pitch, so kudos to you for even doing it,” Transition Accelerator program manager Lauren Tiffan told the students. “There was a lot of good storytelling here tonight, and the essence of a good pitch is if you can get the audience engaged in what you are doing.”

“I was thoroughly impressed with everything I saw, not only the students, but the judges and the program,” Kairos founder and CEO Brian Brackeen said. “I was blown away by the talent level. I felt like the event was well done, but more importantly, the students were really well prepared.”

Some of the judges noted that they hope to work with these students in the future. “I see unlimited potential here that we can tap into,” Cintrifuse CEO Pete Blackshaw said. “I’m actually hoping to bring a lot more of these teams down to Union Hall to really further develop their business models.”

The effort put forth by the judges didn’t go unnoticed by the students. “It’s really amazing to see all these people come here to support students, and I feel very grateful that they would spend their time with us and give us their feedback so that one day, we can go be where they are,” Hermesch said.

CaseChek founder and CEO Matt Brandt, a 2004 graduate, pointed out that the experience of taking on a task like the Venture Pitch Competition has benefits for anyone. “Whether or not you start your own company, the lessons learned in the process of understanding problems and trying to find solutions to those problems creatively will serve you extremely well in any career you go into because companies are always trying to find way to improve.”

Check out more photos from the competition on our Facebook page

Kamilah Dotson

Nourish group photo

Akinda Johnson

Avrio group photo

Descendably group photo