University of Vermont

Students Enter "Shark Tank" in Business Pitch Competition

business pitch
Logan Szidik, a senior in the School of Business Administration, makes a pitch for his business -- a second place winner in the Business Plan Division -- that specializes in accessories made with silk tie material. (Photo: John Turner)

Students in the School of Business Administration and a handful of other majors got a taste of what it’s like to be on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank” on April 26 in the Davis Center, when they took part in the 2014 UVM Business Pitch Competition.

Like the entrepreneurs in the highly rated television series, students presented business pitches to a panel. Playing the role of the investors were judges in two divisions: Business Plan and Business Concept. A total of 19 original submissions were narrowed down to 10 finalists (five in each division) by 25 preliminary round judges comprising local business leaders and faculty. More than $8,000 was awarded to winners who can use the prize money to turn their business pitches into start-ups.

Zachary Palladino, a parks, recreation and tourism major in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, claimed first place in the Business Plan division, collecting $2,500 for his proposal on Suspended Time Skydiving, LLC, a hypothetical skydiving business in the Champlain Islands. Inspired by an "Entrepreneurship in Recreation and Tourism" course taught by lecturer David Kaufman, Palladino turned his love of skydiving into a business plan by partnering with the owner of Allenholm Farms in South Hero, who agreed (in theory) to let Palladino use his airfield and airplanes to create a drop zone aimed at the college-age market.

“That class and experience of being in the competition has challenged me in ways I never could have imagined,” said Palladino, who promised himself that he would put the prize money towards a skydiving rig if he won. “I am not business-focused at all, so having to teach myself as I went along in the semester was really challenging, but I had an amazing professor and support network. I have never put so much time and effort into a project before, and it is incredible to see it pay off.”

The panel of judges in the Business Plan division included David Bradbury, president, Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies; Scottie Ginn, former vice president of engineering at IBM and vice chair of the Board of Trustees at Fletcher Allen; and Don Rendall, vice president of strategic planning at Green Mountain Power Corporation.

Michael Horvath won first prize in the Business Concept division and collected $1,500 for his Freeze Frame Adventures concept of “capturing loved ones in action beyond the usual static photography shot.” Judges in this category included John Evans, former dean of the College of Medicine, senior adviser to President Sullivan and executive director and Vermont Technology Council; Scott Bailey, senior director of partnerships at MassChallenge and co-founder of Business Plan competitions at UVM; and Martin H. Wolf, director of product sustainability and authenticity at Seventh Generation.

“The business pitch competition is the real world culmination of the Business Planning course taught at the business school and related courses taught in other UVM schools,” said Sanjay Sharma, dean of the School of Business Administration. “Students’ business ideas and plans are tested by entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in addition to academic experts. The competition is one of the many recently added experiential components in our business school programs. I am grateful to our major sponsor, David (UVM Class of ’86) and Jessica Aronoff whose gift jump started the competition in 2012.”

Professor Rocki-Lee Dewitt, who helped organize the event, said students and faculty have tried to improve the event each year. "This year, we worked on getting as many faculty members as possible who were teaching entrepreneurship working together," said DeWitt. "In the coming year, we expect it will be even stronger as the addition of Erik Monsen as the Stephen Grossman Endowed Chair in Entrepreneurship brings more support to the team.”

In addition to donor support, the Business School provided the majority of financial support with help from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Rubenstein School.

Business Concept Division:

1st place: Freeze Frame Adventures, Michael Horvath, $1,500 prize.

2nd place: Mountain Charter, LLC, Erin Schultz and Shelby Losier, $1,000 prize

3rd place: Craft Brewery, Nick Kauffman, $750 prize

4th place (tie), ManGo, Jarvis Witte, $100 gift card

5th place (tie), Senomozi Groovelands, Jason Marchand, $100 gift card

Business Plan Division:

1st place: Suspended Time Skydiving, LLC, Zachary Palladino, $2,500 prize

2nd place: Logan Richard, Logan Szidik, $1,250 prize

3rd place: On Target LLC, Adam Becker, $750 prize

4th place: Happy Trails Equestrian, Melissa Beckett, $100 gift card

5th place: Adventrekkers LLC, Emily Shindell, $100 gift card