Smith Center hosts Pitch Day

In 2019, business students dove into their own “Shark Tank” experience through Start-it-Up, a month-long series of workshops created by the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies and the Up Club student organization. The program gave undergraduate and graduate students a chance to turn classroom concepts into actual businesses with the potential for real investment and growth. 

Presentation boards lined the walls of the lobby in VBT, showcasing teams with business ideas ranging from sports betting to international healthcare, but only one team would be the winner of the very first Pitch Day event. 

“As business students, learning in a classroom and coming up with ‘billion-dollar ideas’ is one thing,” says Sophia Romanova, creator of Jest, a card game geared towards millennials. “Applying what you learn and actually attempting to start a business is true entrepreneurship. “ 

The vision for Start-it-Up came from Economics Professor Christian Roessler and Management Professor Izzet Darendeli, directors of the Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies. In 1991, community leaders Owen and Erma Smith gave to the College of Business and Economics with the mission to provide programs that promote a better understanding of the free market system and limited government under the rule of law among the University community as well as the general public.

 “When I became interim director of the Smith Center, my view was that this mission should be primarily achieved not by theoretical advocacy, but by letting students immerse themselves in the market economy and see how they can create value for society through markets,” says Roessler. 

Similar to “Shark Tank,” each group presented and answered questions in front of a panel of judges consisting of alumni and community leaders that were CEOs, venture capitalists, and entrepreneurs.  

Honorable mention went to Iniso, a non-profit NGO based out of Nigeria centered on building a platform for youth empowerment. The third place prize of $2,000 went to PentaRx, an open electronic healthcare database, and Jest came in second place winning a prize of $3,000.  

Each team had amazing ideas, but only one stood out - Bonty, an electric facial cleansing brush designed to reach target areas that traditional brushes cannot. Founder Elizabeth Reyes said, “Winning $5,000 and other web and marketing prizes is a huge achievement, but my biggest reward is the connections I made.”  

For the winning teams, Roessler says this is only the beginning. “The Smith Center’s task is now to help the teams take advantage of these resources, to maximize their long-run business success, their personal learning, and their positive impact on other students. We hope that Start-It-Up will be an integral part of the student experience at Cal State East Bay, providing a wide spectrum of students with opportunities to contribute to solving practical problems - perhaps as founders, perhaps as specialists - in partnership with alumni and other supporters of the university.”

Join us on October 17, 2020 at 1PM PST for a Virtual Tribute for the 50th anniversary of College of Business and Economics to find out what's new with Ubong Usen, founder of Iniso, in a lively discussion with other entrepreneurs. 

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