A new website that would aggregate content on homework assistance and college admissions and financial aid won first place in a business pitch competition for high school youth from faith-based institutions, held March 7 at Lawrence Technological University’s Southfield campus.
The event was presented by LTU and Detroit’s Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church, under grant funding from the New Economy Initiative. It’s believed to be the first pitch contest ever organized for youth sponsored by faith-based organizations.
In the competition, the youth teams had eight minutes to pitch their business ideas to a panel of business experts. Winners were chosen based on which idea the judges thought they’d be most interested in investing with.
The winning business proposal, SHAF, for Scholarship and Homework Aid Finder, is an app that helps students complete high school homework, apply for college, and find financial aid. The students said such information exists online but is commonly split among fragmented apps and websites.
Finishing second was StressLess Funerals, a funeral planning website for families coping with the loss of a loved one. In third place was Splashguard, a device to keep toilet water from splashing up when using the commode.
Other business ideas pitched were SwitchKicks, a shoe leasing business for expensive designer shoes; Oasis, an online network for suicide prevention; Wash n’ Play, a toy encased in soap to encourage kids to bathe; and Soul Lock, a biometric gun lock to prevent accidental shootings and suicides.
The first place proposal won $1,000 in cash and $5,000 in Lawrence Tech scholarships. Second place won $500 in cash and $2,500 in LTU scholarships. Third place won $375 in cash and $1,750 in LTU scholarships.
To prepare for the event, teams participated in Saturday boot camps taught by Jackie Stavros and Matt Cole, professors in LTU’s College of Business and Information Technology, as well as Sibrina Collins, executive director of LTU’s Marburger STEM Center. Teams also had LTU business students as volunteer coaches.
“It was really fun,” said one of the coaches, Matthew Moore, a junior finance major at LTU from Lapeer. “I was proud of how much work the team put into it, and how far they came from the first day. They really got into it and made it their own, and were very passionate about it.”
The event began with welcomes from master of ceremonies Alan Muscovitz, former sidekick on the Dick Purtan radio show, and Maria Vaz, provost at Lawrence Tech. LTU MBA student Mashia Tate, CEO of a startup called KnoMe, also offered a brief keynote in which she shared the five key lessons she’s learned in business – persistence, the ability to create your own opportunities, believing in yourself, networking, and trusting in yourself.
Serving as judges were Lee Gaddis, founder and CEO of Gaddis Gaming, a Detroit-based gaming table manufacturer; Lee Gorman, owner of Barton Consulting Services LLC, an Ann Arbor business consulting firm; and Belinda Turner-Dubois, loan officer at CEED Lending, a small business lending center of the Center for Empowerment and Economic Development, an initiative of the Great Lakes Women’s Business Council.
Said Pastor Nathan Johnson of Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church: “I am so grateful for the LTU Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative. I want to thank the Lawrence Technological University and the New Economy Initiative for this fantastic opportunity for our young people. All of the youth represented well the faith-based organizations they are a part of. They pitched their ideas with great precision, poise, and passion which made us all proud. This program is an excellent example of what can happen for the betterment of our young people when faith-based organizations and institutions of higher learning collaborate. I am looking forward with positive anticipation to the next phase.”
“When kids are exposed to entrepreneurship, they learn skills like problem solving and teamwork that will serve them well later in life, regardless of whether they decide to start a business,” said Maria LaLonde, senior program officer at the New Economy Initiative. “NEI is proud to support innovative programs like this event through its Youth Entrepreneurship Learning Initiative. Not only was the pitch competition at LTU a lot of fun, it's also a great example of the demand in our region for youth entrepreneurship programs.”
Those interested in learning more about the program and similar events should contact Ross Sanders, LTU manager of corporate partnerships, at email@example.com or (248) 204-2221.