Aspiring student entrepreneurs present ideas at campus Pitch Party

Western Carolina University’s Center for the Study of Free Enterprise recently sponsored its fourth annual Pitch Party, offering WCU students who are aspiring entrepreneurs an opportunity to present their business ideas to a live audience and panel of judges.

The Pitch Party is organized by EPIC Innovation, a student initiative within the College of Business that encourages entrepreneurship through “elevating potential, imagination and collaboration.” Leading up to the event, participants work with faculty mentors to research the industry, determine relevant product content and improve presentation techniques.

Tuyen Tram pitches her idea for a hiking backpack with accessible compartments.

For their pitch, the competitors have up to five minutes to present, and then the judges have three minutes to ask questions and critique the students’ ideas. The panel of judges determines the top three winners, but the audience also votes to nominate its favorite business idea for the People’s Choice Award. All the winners receive a trophy and cash prizes.

This year’s pitch competition had an outdoor theme in support of the Outdoor Economy Conference being hosted at WCU during the same week. All the contestants presented a business idea that related to the outdoor industry, and the winners were announced at the conference the following day, Friday, Oct. 5.

First-place and People’s Choice Award winner was Kyle Monaghan, inventor of Power Trek. Monaghan is a mechanical engineering student and self-described outdoor enthusiast. Thanks to his experience on the Appalachian Trail, he realized that hikers don’t have a way to charge their electronic devices on the trails. His pitch involved combining a trekking pole with a built-in battery that charges as an individual hikes, turning the user’s physical energy into electric energy.

Second-place went to Grant White and Steven Tate, who are engineering technology majors. They pitched an invention called Shred Light, a snowboard with red and green lights on the front, back and sides, which pull double-duty as learning tools and safety features.

The third-place winner was Drew Singleton, an engineering technology major. Singleton pitched a bike light with a power source that could be inserted into the steering column, an invention he calls TuBright.

The other competitors were Leah Sitterson, a film and television production major pitching her idea for a mobile outdoor store; Tuyen Tram, a graphic design major who pitched an idea for a hiking backpack with accessible compartments; and entrepreneurship majors Matthew McRae and Clint Bartlett, a duo pitching their video production company.

The panel of judges consisted of business professionals and inventors alike. Panelists were Hollye Moss, interim dean of WCU’s College of Business; Noah Wilson, president of Emergent Opportunity Inc. and program director for Outdoor Gear Builders of WNC; Adam Masters, owner of Bellyak; Alex Walser, WCU alumnus, previous pitch competition winner and owner of Bearded Crew; Jeff Kaplan, director of entrepreneurship for Venture Asheville; David Knight, outdoor industry recruitment director for the N.C. Department of Commerce; and Sandra Dennison, regional director for Small Business and Technology Development Center at WCU.

Student entrepreneurs who want to learn more about EPIC Innovation can contact Yue Hillon at ycai@email.wcu.edu or Wendy Cagle at wcagle@email.wcu.edu.

Information compiled by Emily Tatum