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Student Entrepreneur Teams Advance Toward UW Business Competition

University of Washington first hosted their annual Business Plan Competition in 1998, showcasing student business pitches from Washington schools. This year, a new competitor has entered the scene, as Clark’s Entrepreneur Club is preparing student teams to compete this year.

UW reached out to the entrepreneur club, spurring them to participate.

A group of judges interviewing the Cherry River contestants. Justin Flint/The Indy
A group of judges interviewing the Cherry River contestants. Justin Flint/The Indy

“They asked us if we’d be interested in starting up something like this to get our students ready for their pitch,” Entrepreneur Club President, Heather Leasure, said.  

Thus, Pitch Fest began. Over the past few months, the club is dedicated to ensuring the success of the event including marketing and coordination. This process has not been without troubles, particularly in regards to student registration for the event.

“We were hoping for 24 [teams]. We got 12,” Leasure said. “We had one decide not to do it and we had another decide not to do it because they didn’t feel prepared enough.”

On Nov. 7, the day of the event, three teams did not show up, leaving nine teams participating.

Even with lower than anticipated teams, the community presence was still present. The UW $25,000 prize is a major incentive for participation, but participants were also passionate about their business pitches.

One pair of participants were partners from the already-founded, small-time health and beauty company Cherry River. For Alison Warlitner and her husband, who own Cherry River, their business is a primary focus.

“This is something I’m incredibly passionate about. Once I get my degree I’m going to keep doing this, because I really care about our products and about helping people with this whole-bodied health,” Warlitner said.  

While the participants all shared an interest in entrepreneurship, the quality of presentations varied between the entries.

Some contestants came with full samples of their hopeful products, others with a diagram and description of their entry and others came with just a speech regarding their product. Regardless of their presentation materials, those who chose to enter took the first step toward a career in entrepreneurship; coming up with an idea to sell to those around them.

Several Clark County business leaders served as judges for the event, investing in the projects they thought could be viable businesses. One judge, Douglas Greene, has 50 years of entrepreneurship under his belt. By sharing his experiences with interested students, Greene wants to help prepare them for the reality of being a business owner.

Pitchfest judge and retired entrepreneur, Dr. Douglas Greene, voting by putting fake money in jars with the contestants's business name. Justin Flint/The Indy
Pitchfest judge and retired entrepreneur, Dr. Douglas Greene, voting by putting fake money in jars with the contestants’s business name. Justin Flint/The Indy

“A lot of students, after they graduate, really aren’t prepared to go into industry,” Greene said. “I’m not saying that all colleges, community or four year institutions don’t do a good job preparing their students, but I don’t think the creative thinking part has been explored enough at the college level.”

By the end of the event the 12 judges had all invested in different teams. The Entrepreneur Club had planned to advance the top 12 teams to the next round of preparation for the UW competition, so all nine participating teams were given the opportunity to advance

Within the next quarter, Pitch Fest will continue through two more rounds of feedback to further prepare the student teams. On Nov. 16, they had a feedback round, in which judges presented solid criticism to the nine teams who advanced from the first round. A final round of judging was on Nov. 30, in which the top three finalists were determined. These three teams will be paired with mentors who will assist in the writing an executive summary to be submitted to UW’s Business Plan Competition.

All future developments about Pitch Fest can be found at ClarkPitchFest.com

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