Pitch Competitions: Students Take Their Skills and Their Business to the Next Level

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Thursday, June 24, 2021
By Hannah DeBevoise
Photo by iStock
Two students share their experiences participating in entrepreneurship pitch competitions.

For budding entrepreneurs, business school can be the perfect place not only to gain the foundational skills needed to grow and run a thriving business but also to discover opportunities for funding and awareness through pitch competitions.

A pitch competition gives entrepreneurs an arena to present their business concept or product for a chance to obtain funding. These competitions that allow aspiring entrepreneurs to practice critical business skills, create awareness for their business concept or product, and potentially gain funding to further their entrepreneurial goals.

We spoke with two students from Stetson University School of Business Administration—a recent alumna and a rising junior—who each had the opportunity to participate in a pitch competition and ended up receiving funds. Nesha Mutuku and Kendall Buck share their experiences participating in pitch competitions, as well as insights on how their business education has created impact in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

Tell us a little about yourself and your business venture.

Kendall Buck: I am going into my junior year of college. Two predominate personality traits that describe me are outgoing and very driven.

Kendall BuckGrowing up, the kitchen was the center of our home. Spending every night in the kitchen with my parents was a huge part of my life. Sometimes we threw random ingredients together to make a phenomenal meal, and some of our greatest and most creative dishes included fresh herbs. The only downside, though, was stripping the leaves off the stems. This part of the preparation put a damper on the fun that we had cooking together. That’s where the idea for Herbtastic was born.

Herbtastic is a unique kitchen tool that removes the leaves from herbs. Rather than hand picking one leaf off at a time, you can simply rake through the herbs and have them ready to go. The process of preparing herbs is fun and efficient with Herbtastic.

Nesha Mutuku: I recently graduated from Stetson University with a degree in business management. My journey toward entrepreneurship began when I started my first business at 10 years old. As the years went by, I became increasingly passionate about economic development and wanted to do all I could to overcome generational and systemic poverty and empower others to do the same. With this motivation, I completed high school when I was 13, finished three associate degrees at 16, and completed my bachelor’s degree at Stetson at age 18.

Nesha MutukuI founded Swally last year when I realized that our family needed an easier way to budget and spend without guilt or stress. Swally empowers users to live freely by making budgeting fun! From a direct deposit, you can watch your money get automatically dispersed into digital envelopes. Geo-alerts tell you exactly what to spend when you walk into your favorite stores, helping to prevent overspending. Swally also has a reward system, SwallyScore, that's designed to represent how you spend and save money and helps you stay on track with your financial goals.

Why did you choose to study business at Stetson University?

Mutuku: I’ve always been interested in curating a memorable experience, and I actually chose a business degree because I wanted to enter the world of hospitality and resort ownership. I was made aware of Stetson’s phenomenal program as a Phi Theta Kappa member in junior college. After visiting the campus and seeing how knowledgeable and personable the faculty was, I knew that I needed to complete my undergraduate degree there.

Buck: I have known for a long time that I wanted to study business. Many of my family members have an entrepreneurial spirit, and the business world has always been a part of my life. When I was looking at colleges, I toured Stetson and signed my offer letter that day. After seeing the programs the business school offers, such as the Prince Entrepreneurship Leaders Program, and the quality of the education, I knew I was in the right place. Stetson’s business school is unique because it offers and encourages real-world opportunities for students so we can apply our knowledge to real business ventures. Choosing to go to Stetson was one of the best decisions I made. I honestly think that if I had gone to a different, larger school, I wouldn’t have already taken Herbtastic to market.

How has your business education at Stetson University enhanced your entrepreneurial endeavors?

Buck: The Prince Entrepreneurship Leaders Program at Stetson has drastically changed my college experience and entrepreneurial endeavors. This program, directed by Lou Paris, is the reason I have made it this far with success. Professor Paris has been there for me every step of the way to help me overcome challenges and connect with the people who could help me advance my business.

One of the most important things that I learned was how to pitch myself and my business, with the help of Professor Paris. Being in pitch competitions, such as the Frank and Ellen Daveler Entrepreneurship Program pitch competition, has allowed me to understand my own business better and how to explain it to an audience—and to do it in 90 seconds!

Mutuku: Stetson offered fantastic fundamentals courses that gave me the business acumen to navigate the world of venture creation and management. Understanding accounting, ethics best practices, and public presentation has been key to what I now do every day. Having the chance to constantly learn and communicate deeply with faculty allowed me to discover and apply more of the curriculum to my startup.

Swally app

I learned that as an entrepreneur that I will never feel completely “comfortable.” Just like new course material can feel difficult or challenging, managing a startup will always feel slightly overwhelming. I’m currently learning to embrace uncertainty and push past the unknown to creatively solve what’s next.

How has winning the pitch competition benefited your business?

Mutuku: After presenting Swally in four pitch competitions last semester, we placed first at Embry Riddle’s Launch Your Venture competition. Our team won 10,000 USD at this competition, and it has allowed us to refine our branding, marketing, and user experience structure. It has provided a cushion for us to move forward while we’re completing our summer funding round.

Buck: Winning the Frank and Ellen Daveler Entrepreneurship Program pitch competition has given me the opportunity to invest more in marketing. This is important because it allows me to direct more traffic to my website and to build a brand. The competition has also boosted my confidence and provided opportunities for additional public relations, such as interviews and articles.

Finally, I am in the process of expanding my business into brick-and-mortar stores. As a result, I am creating more retail-friendly packaging with the help of the funds I will receive from this competition.

What advice would you offer aspiring entrepreneurs?

Buck: There are two pieces of advice that I tend to offer to people. The first is to always take the first step. My family and I have had the idea for Herbtastic for years, but we never did anything about it. When I got to Stetson and took the first step to advance my business, I never would have thought that I would be on Amazon and in five local retail stores. Yet, since I took that chance and took that first step, I was able to take Herbtastic to market so that other families could enjoy cooking more without fighting over who has to prep the herbs.

Herbtastic herb rake

The second piece of advice is to ask for help when you need it. Starting a business is hard, and there is no shame in admitting you do not know something. I know that I do not have all the answers now, but that is part of the challenge and day-to-day fun. I am learning how to improve my business every day.

Mutuku: Above everything else, be committed to your customer—the people whom your business will affect, improve, and benefit. Although it’s easy to get caught in tech specs, investor opinions, and, worst of all, comparison with other startups and small businesses, all that matters in the end is your customer loving what you’re creating!

Hannah DeBevoise
Social Media Manager, AACSB International
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