Pitch competition transitions to virtual event successfully

Zoom meeting full of faces

The spring Introduction to Entrepreneurship class at the Farmer School’s John W. Altman Institute for Entrepreneurship got an unexpected introduction into remote learning as the coronavirus pandemic closed down the classroom setting the students expected. It meant that the final assignment of the class, a group competition called the Business Case Road Test, would also have to take place remotely.

But the students rose to the occasion, developing business ideas and presenting them first to faculty members, who chose four groups to virtually present to a group of business and entrepreneurship leaders and answer questions from them.

First place went to BOD MOD Aftercare, a business based on providing aftercare products and information for people who have body modifications, such as piercings. Team members were Myles Bell, Sam Christie, Megan Goheen, Emily Nebraska, Lily Thaler, and Angela Weckle. Second place was BarLender, a service for educating bartenders and matching them to businesses and events that need them. Team members were Claire Bateson, Jake Guzik, David Anderson, Nolan Reynolds, and Alex Benson.

“I'm floored that the students were able to pull this off in this environment,” entrepreneur Kelly Kolar told the students. “This pandemic climate has been so challenging for our business, seeing the amount of stall and just working through the different dynamics of the technology challenges, the teaming challenges, trying to get the work out the door. I really, really applaud the students for what they've been able to do, as well as the faculty.”

The move to remote learning posed obvious and not-so-obvious challenges, Christie noted. “We stopped seeing each other in person and communicated through technology a lot more. Some research channels got blocked because of the virus, such as contacting tattoo shops for validation, so we had to adapt certain facets of the business model to cope.”

“I was lucky enough to be on a team of hardworking and motivated individuals. We tried to stay on track as best as we could as we shifted from in-person class to online class. It was hard, no doubt, but being on such a collaborative team made it much easier to meet virtually,” Nebraska recalled. “Our meetings were efficient and productive and everyone completed their own personal work in a timely matter.”

Christie said that the difficulties involved were offset by the opportunities that working and presenting virtually allowed. “The online presentation environment was different than presenting in person, but the pre-presentation nerves were somewhat the same. We all pumped each other up in our group messages before our turn to present,” he recalled. “The online presenting environment allowed us to utilize speaker notes, see questions as they popped up in the chat, and have someone not presenting control the slides.” 

“My biggest takeaway from this experience is maintaining a strong team connection while working completely isolated and virtually. Right off the bat, we established each of our strengths and weaknesses and were transparent about them. This helped us to delegate tasks to certain members of the team while playing to our strengths,” Nebraska noted. “Maintaining meaningful and honest communication was encouraged as we spoke often in our group messages about clarifying deadlines and responsibilities. We also all kept an open mind and positive attitude when it came to accepting feedback and brainstorming.”

“The Institute of Entrepreneurship professors provide incredible opportunities for students and truly care about our education and success,” Christie said. “Their motivation and work ethic to keep this competition alive despite the conditions does not go unnoticed and for sure kept the students motivated.”