New Venture Competition gives student businesses a chance

Team members from Episcura, an asset shop for digital artists, took home the top award at the New Venture Competition on March 27.

Less than five feet away from Kurt Baringer were the judges that would decide whether his team would succeed or fail. Despite practicing the business pitch enough until he was sure he could recite it in his sleep, he was still filled with nerves.

Three pitches later, the Beaverton Central Michigan University alumni was part of the $30,000 “Best Overall” 2015 New Venture Competition winning team, Episcura.

“It was exciting. You’re incredibly nervous because you have to give a business pitch to strangers.You’re just hoping you’re doing everything right,” Baringer said. “If you make it past that round, you have to do it again. It’s exciting to make it past even the first round to get a little bit of validation.”

Episcura, a website that sells images that are used in 3D animation, now has over 5,000 subscribers and averages 100 people buying the product each month.

Last year the New Venture Competition awarded $75,000 to help students launch start-up businesses in Michigan. The competition is coordinated by the College of Business Administration and the Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship. As part of fall semester workshops designed to hone students’ business plans, a “Shark Tank” style pitch session will be held at 11 p.m. on Wednesday in Grawn Hall 278.

“Make sure you put your operator’s agreement right in the beginning so you know who is in charge and who’s controlling what so there’s no arguments. They know how much of the company they own,” Baringer said. “Go through the process and don’t be afraid to pivot. Don’t be so afraid of change that you miss an opportunity. You can take your concept and apply it differently.”

New Venture Competitors in need of capital to start or expand a business can attend the U.S. Small Business Association Financing Roundtable on small business lending at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday at Mid Michigan Community College. The roundtable gives small business owners insight into securing loans and shares real life examples for students to apply to the competition.

Upcoming New Venture Competition contestants should take advantage of their resources and attend every seminar Northville CMU alumni Conner Heinle said.

His team, Sinfonia Marching Exposition, was awarded ‘Best Social Venue’ in 2014 for an event management business that serves financially unstable and low-income band programs in Michigan.

“You have to be passionate about both business and truly be passionate about the actual idea,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re trying to do patches monitoring hydration or a needed service. You need passion to put in the extra hours at 3 a.m. and studying the market.”

While working in the corporate environment and being in college, Claire senior Michael Drew began to feel overwhelmed by the amount of business relationships he was making. By his junior year, he had over 300 connections.

“I didn’t want to keep in touch with all of them, but there were a few I wanted to build a relationship with,” he said. “I found myself trying to manage this information in a spreadsheet with their name, contact information and when we last met. In business, networking is so critical because it opens up doors.”

The overwhelming amount of spreadsheets inspired an idea: instead of having to manage the information in a complicated way, he could create a mobile application that would connect his social media platforms and cultivate the relationships he wanted to continue.

From there, Go Garden was born. The social networking manager that ended up winning the ‘Best Technology’ award of $10,000 and ‘Best Pitch’ award of $2,000. This money helped fund the development of the app.

Users could pick and choose who they wanted to foster a relationship with and the app would help remind when to meet with them. Notes could also be written on peoples' profiles and users can see what they posted on social media platforms

“We only finished the minimum viable product, something that only works but isn’t ready for marketing yet, and we ultimately ran out of capital to finish the app,” Drew said. “Go Garden isn’t dead. We’ve been working on different ways we can approach development, which includes raising more capital and hiring more developers. It was put on pause for a while.”

He and his business partner will be coming to CMU for the New Venture Competition to judge and help fund one of the prizes in December.

“The New Venture Competition helps move an idea into motion and validate a concept,” Drew said.