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Tue, November 14, 2017

Pitching Ideas, Catching Success

Think you can sum up your business idea creatively with facts, projections and tact in 90 seconds?

This potentially life-changing, intense experience is offered in the annual Garner Holt Student Fast Pitch Competition run by the Inland Empire Center for Entrepreneurship (IECE). It started in 2006 as a way to connect CSUSB students to the entrepreneurial spirit, allowing them to jump-start potential business ventures by pitching their idea to a panel of investors and other members of Southern California’s entrepreneurial community. Since 2010, one of the region’s most successful entrepreneurs, Garner L. Holt, has sponsored this innovative program.

“What can come out of this is pretty exciting,” said Mike Stull, Ph.D., IECE director, management chair and professor of entrepreneurship. “We place a premium on experiential learning, and the competition allows students from any program on campus to experience entrepreneurship firsthand.”

Nearly 100 entries are submitted annually, but only up to 15 semi-finalists are selected to present at a semi-final qualifying event. Each fast pitch is judged for the quality of the presentation and its investment potential. Five finalists then head to a final round held during the prestigious black-tie Spirit of the Entrepreneur Awards event, which celebrates the top entrepreneurs in the Inland Southern California region.

While the top three students receive cash awards up to $4,000, some gain actual investors. Many say the experience helps with communication, networking and focus on goals. About a handful make further efforts to pursue their entrepreneurial dreams such as entering greater competitions around the country.

Coaching & crafting Every participant gets the opportunity to hone their pitch through coaching sessions with Steve Abbott, an entrepreneur in residence with IECE. They work on content, presentation and energy levels.

“You need a pause,” recommends Steve to one student. “It may cost four seconds, but it’s worth it.”

The CSUSB professor and business consultant packs each session with a series of feedback and suggestions, offering pointers on timing, catchy phrases and memorable props - all components to increase interest of investors.

“Cramming everything in is nearly impossible,” said 2017 finalist Brandon Bachman (computer science, fall ’18). “My idea of allowing the general public access to advanced robotic observatories was just too complicated, but Steve helped suggest ways I could make the pitch more down to earth.”

Aiden Lin, 21, (entrepreneurship, Dec. ’19) said he spent weeks rehearsing his DIY craft box pitch.

“If you’re not confident in how you’re talking and you don’t feel good about the product, it’s not good,” he said nervously before going on stage to present to peers and investors at the 2017 semi-finals.

At one point clinical counseling student Lisa Tucker, 54, questioned her participation, but happy she took the plunge.

  • “It’s a lot of pressure. At the end, I had practiced so many times, I still forgot some lines,” said Lisa, who took third place in the finals with a science and art camp idea. “Staff, faculty, peers – they just put their arms around you and want you to succeed.”
  • A poised Nancy Abigail Castillo Rodriguez (entrepreneurship) took the stage during semi-finals and rapidly delivered an idea for an adjustable portable desk. And in Shark Tank fashion, the 23-year-old faced a series of questions on the profit margin, benefits and consumer need of her proposed desk.

  • “I’m learning so much. I want to set an example for other minorities and take challenges like this,” she said.
  • Exposure & Opportunity

    By the end of the entire experience participants form a community of friendship, inspiration and potential business, says Joelle Passerello (entrepreneurship/marketing fall ’18), winner of the 2016 competition.

  • “It gave me notoriety at school. It got my name out there,” said Joelle who is now working as an event coordinator for the Inland Empire Women’s Business Center, a community-based IECE program which aims to empower women through entrepreneurship.
  • For those that believe in their product the experience doesn’t end.

    Second place winner of the 2017 competition Mai Temraz is working on moving forward Lily Pads, a business that sells reusable feminine hygiene products while raising social awareness of the needs of girls in third world countries.

    The native Palestinian, who is here on a Fulbright scholarship, said the competition helped her overcome two challenges – talking about a subject that was taboo in her home country and making a pitch in English. Her idea will be presented in a national competition, an opportunity to increase funding to officially launch her business.

    Pitching for Life

    Garner L. Holt, is the owner of Garner Holt Productions, Inc., the world’s largest animatronics and animatronic figure manufacturer based in San Bernardino. For more than 40 years, he has worked with a range of high profile clients including Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, Coca-Cola, Mattel and NASA.

    The self-dubbed lifelong entrepreneur says his success wasn’t instant. Starting out in his parent’s garage in the late 1970s, he faced similar struggles and self-doubt that students face. Pitching is a must for entrepreneurs, he says. He told students recently that after more than 600 times, he still got a little nervous pitching to Chinese executives for a theme park, but his confidence in his product carried him through.

  • “Get good at this. You’ll be doing this for the rest of your life.”