More than 120 judges take part in virtual venture pitch competition

A student pitches her idea during a Zoom meeting

The RedHawk Venture Pitch Competition had its largest number of judges ever this semester, thanks in part to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 120 investors, accelerator directors, funded company founders, and other ecosystem builders served as judges in the newly-online event, many of whom would not have been able to attend had the competition been a solely in-person event as previous competitions have been.

The event was held on Zoom, and the presentations were also broadcast on the John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship Facebook page. Zoom allowed the judges to use the chat window to ask questions, give advice, and offer assistance to the teams if they wanted to move forward with their ideas.

“I really like this on Zoom, I feel it’s easier to share meaningful questions than if we were in a room together,” founder & CEO at Ampersand Innovation and entrepreneur-in-residence Holly O’ Driscoll commented.

“Once I learned that there were 100+ "judges" my immediate reaction was, ‘Okay, not sure that I'm that interested.’ I spend a lot of time meeting with entrepreneurs and paneling pitch competitions. What I'm finding is that the chat stream has been great and the comments have been insightful. Have to tell you I'm having fun,” David Fogel, managing director of Swifton CFOs Inc., said.

Six student teams pitched the ideas that they worked on during their ESP 401 New Ventures class this semester. $10,000 in prize money was initially up for grabs, but Jeff Tennery, founder of Moonlighting, and a Farmer School marketing graduate taking part as a judge, donated an additional $5,000 to the prize pool just prior to the start of the presentations.

“I wanted to do something meaningful for Miami and Tim (Holcomb). I have had such an outpouring of support for Moonlighting that it felt like the right time to reciprocate,” Tennery explained.

The winning teams and their prize money were:

  • 1st place/$7,500: CareFluency, a specialized learning learning platform for healthcare professionals - co-founded by Julia Asphar, Nikki Gundimeda, and Laura Mena.
  • 2nd place/$3,750: Zinerva, a gameboard and Amazon Alexa skill that enables visually-impaired persons to easily play - co-founded by Luke Chmiel, Madison Krell, and Sarah Elizabeth Strack.
  • 3rd place/$1,500: Ascend, a service for planning and customizing funeral services - co-founded by Paul DiFranco III, Ryan Sarver, and Molly Zilch.

The remaining three teams each received $750.

“Great pool of startups...and I must say, it’s even more engaging online. Many more comments. Frenetic but hyper-engaging," Cintrifuse chief executive officer Pete Bradshaw commented in chat. "#Pitch&Honor."

“Could not be more proud to be an alum of Miami and FSB. While more work ahead for many (most), you all were prepared, professional and so poised. Congrats to all! The business world is sure to welcome you all with open arms!” Trish Lukasik said.

“Great pivot, Miami squad, from an in-person event to Zoom. I know we’re all doing it now and you all have had quite the practice with converting classes to online, but I appreciate the effort!” Cintrifuse vice president – external relations Eric Weissmann commented.

“If you're going to commit to entrepreneurship, three things to keep in mind -- creativity, courage and conviction,” OCEAN Programs chairman Scott Weiss told the students. “You demonstrated incredible creativity tonight and how you saw solutions to problems. It takes a lot of courage to stand up in front of 120 judges and get all that feedback and react. For those of you that are going to pursue this, its conviction. It's leaning in with passion for the long haul and knowing what you're getting into and just keep grinding it out. And you may not know it fully yet, but you've been inside the Altman Institute, which demonstrates all three of those things.”

“This is really a case study in what entrepreneurship is, really pivoting and adjusting and dealing with the unknowns. And I just continue to be in awe of everything that you guys do with the resources that you have,” Jeffrey Kadlic, founding partner of Evolution Capital Partners, noted. “I do think that the business models that were presented tonight were probably the most relevant and timely, given everything that's going on right now, that I've seen so far. Every time a presentation is made, I come away very impressed.”