Innovation Contest Puts Student Entrepreneurs in the Spotlight

Panel of business experts offer critiques in first School of Business “shark tank.”

The School of Business hosted its first ever Innovation Contest on April 24, inviting teams of students from across the College to pitch their ideas and business startups to a panel of eight faculty, alumni and entrepreneurs, a la ABC’s hit reality show Shark Tank.

With a $250 grand prize on the line, four teams presented their business plans that ranged in focus from a realty website that aggregates student-friendly apartment listings, to an environmental consulting firm specializing in sustainable design and water preservation.

Gabriel Quiroz ’14, a management and international studies major, imagined the idea for JobApp as a freshman, when he saw his graduating friends struggling through time-consuming job applications in a competitive economy.

“JobApp is a standardized job application, similar to the Common App used by colleges, and integrated with technology used by Netflix and Amazon, so each application puts you closer to the job that’s right for you,” Quiroz says.

Three years later, and with the help of Jasper Hall neighbor and business partner Graham Rose ’14, a management and global business studies major, the two have molded the idea into a startup they call “game-changing.”

There is a great atmosphere, a great sense of momentum from everyone I have met from the School of Business.

“We’re the potential users, so we know exactly the demographic we’re appealing to. We’re living it full time,” Rose adds.

Their meticulous presentation, which was preceded by three months of research, financial analysis and countless phone calls to human resource representatives, won over the judges that evening, and JobApp took first place.

“Their idea is a great idea, it was concise, well-presented and they really sold it,” says contest organizer Aileen Farrelly ’95, assistant dean of the School of Business and assistant professor of accounting. “It was a very, very good learning experience for everyone involved.”

Although all groups won monetary prizes for participating, they also received their full scorecards from the judging panel — the most valuable takeaway of the evening.

“I am not a business major, so I entered the contest because I wanted to know more about pitching an idea and seeing it to fruition,” says Amanda Cromwell ’13, an international studies and Spanish major, who created a keychain card holder for miniature store club cards. “Having [the judges] give me feedback and resources, I feel like my vision is feasible; it might be cumbersome, but it’s not impossible,” she adds, noting that she was proud to be the only female presenter of the bunch.

While the judges were quick to hand out critiques — do your research, be concise, look for hidden costs, build partnerships — they were nonetheless impressed with the energy and creativity of the students.

“There is a great atmosphere, a great sense of momentum from everyone I have met from the School of Business,” says Matthew Sullivan, a judge and district sales manager for Georgia-Pacific Professional. “The School of Business is building a great culture.”

And while the contest may be over, the innovators aren’t finished just yet.

After polishing their elevator pitch for a number of upcoming networking events, Quiroz and Rose say their next step is securing investors.

When asked to give their advice to other student innovators, the two stayed true to the concise style that won them the competition.

“Go for it,” Rose said.

“Take the risk,” Quiroz added.

To learn more about applying to next year’s Innovation Contest, contact Aileen Farrelly at (718) 862-7223 or aileen.farrelly@manhattan.edu.