Sharks invaded the Bucks County Community College campus in Bristol recently. They were not the kind lurking in the ocean depths, but the kind modeled after the TV show “Shark Tank.”
Local entrepreneurs pitched their concepts to the sharks — otherwise known as investors — as part of the college’s first contest to help fund viable business plans.
The Start Me Up Challenge was open to Bucks County residents who pitched their ideas live to investors for up to $100,000 in backing.
After learning about the contest from her grandfather, high school senior Alyssa Mattia invented a sneaker that converts to a sandal.
“He’s helped me all along the way with the shoe, and he thought it would be an awesome opportunity for me to get to know a little bit more about entrepreneurship and actually get started with a business,” Mattia said. “So I figured it’d be an awesome way to kind of get some exposure to the business world.”
Mattia, who will be attending business school at Villanova University in the fall, came up with the two-in-one shoe idea when she was just 7.
“My mother always wanted me to change out of flip flops into sneakers when I wanted to ride my bike, and I thought there’s got to be an easier way to do it,” she said.
The finalists pitched their ideas in front of an audience; each attracted some interest from at least one investor.
The inaugural contest started with more than 85 submissions that judges whittled down to the five finalists.
Matthew Timek, a sophomore Bucks County Community College, came up with an idea for a mobile app to make sharing photos and videos from an event easier.
The 20-year-old said the multiple judging rounds were tough.
“It was a bit challenging trying to come up with all these answers for my business and my idea, but it’s made me grow as an entrepreneur and helped me develop my business further,” he said.
The business administration major was looking forward “to getting mentorship and advice from the investors.”
Finalist Jeff Nowak’s idea for an editing program to punch up language intrigued all the investors.
“To understand how we’re doing this, I want to ask everyone — and the judges — a quick question. So which word is funnier? Pull. Raise your hand, great.
“And raise your hand if you think yank,” he said as part of his pitch. “So if such a small change could have such an impact on all of the audience, why couldn’t this concept be applied to all of our writing?”
Competitions like this one are how his company Boost Linguistics is funded, said Nowak, who has honed his pitch with practice.
“So you don’t really want to expect to do well,” he said. “Really, you want to practice so you don’t have to have hope that you will do well.”
Investor Bill Borchert, who brought the contest idea to the college, expressed interest in potentially funding all five concepts.
“I thought all the ideas were great. Some need some development, obviously, and we’ll see if I can strike a deal with some of them when we get together in the next couple of weeks,” he said.
Steve Boerner, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship at the community college, hosted the event and helped cull the submissions.
“We are looking for the best business model, and we wouldn’t pick one over another just because it was further down the line,” he said. “It might even be in revenue, but the model is flawed greatly and we saw that a lot.
“So some of the earlier stage companies represented a very, very well-thought-out, fluent business model that had a lot of potential even though they weren’t making revenue today,” he said.
Andy Hatsat pitched a system that fully automates tennis games. He says he’d pitched before but in front of an audience.
“So it gave me the opportunity to get boiled down to exactly what I wanted to say, to the essence of it,” he said. “And I had fun doing it. I was really thrilled that the judges were intently listening and seemed to be generally interested in the business and the product and asked me some great questions.”
Oncology nurse Linda Dick and her husband came up with “splashblocker,” a product designed to protect nurses and health care workers from harm when emptying patient waste containers.
“When we started out, there were 70 people involved, and we ended up being one of the six [finalists],” said Linda’s husband, Bill Dick. “So that itself is a major feat to tackle.”
The community college plans to make the competition an annual event.