At the Carolina Challenge Pitch Party on Thursday, junior Edwina Koch pitched her idea for a start-up venture: an app called Cross-Criss that notifies users when they cross paths with a friend on any social media platform.
“While living in Paris, I would run into people in my life from America,” Koch said. “I bumped into my high school math teacher and people I knew from church. It got me wondering how many time I crossed paths with people I knew and didn’t even realize it.”
Located in the Blue Zone of Kenan Stadium, the party kicked off Carolina Challenge, a competition that began in 2005, in which student entrepreneurs pitch startup projects to judges. While the Pitch Party awarded $5,250 to winners on Thursday, Carolina Challenge awards $50,000 in prize money each year, the majority of which is awarded in the spring competition.
Virtual Kinetics, a venture that uses sensors to improve physical therapy outcomes, won first place at the party. InForm Athletics and MissDevelopIT won second and third place.
Senior and co-director of Carolina Challenge Anne Burke Baldridge said the goal is to educate students on how to become better entrepreneurs.
“It’s not just a competition with the sole goal of winning money for the teams,” Baldridge said. “We really want it to be an experience that allows them to hone their skills as entrepreneurs and use it as an opportunity to grow their venture.”
Baldridge said universities are uniquely positioned to promote entrepreneurship among students.
“In our lives, we will never be in an environment like we are now, surrounded by so many bright people and the incredible wealth of resources that we have here,” she said. “The University provides great opportunities for students who have ideas and want to take them to the next level.”
Baldridge said one of the great things about the competition is that it draws diverse participants from a wide range of disciplines.
Seniors Austin Helms and Randy Short won second place in the competition last spring with their idea for a waterless car washing service called Buddy’s.
“Buddy’s is an on-demand type service that provides customers with a car wash while they do anything, such as shopping,” Helms said. “It’s like Uber meets car washing. We use a 100 percent eco-friendly wash and wax all-in-one product.”
Earl McKee, a judge and chairperson of the Orange County Board of Commissioners said events like Carolina Challenge are critical to encourage students to develop their ideas and make contacts.
“I’m sure there are a lot of venture capitalists here who are looking for the next big thing. They’re looking for the next Facebook and the next Google,” he said.
Merrill Mason, who has been a judge since the competition started, said Carolina Challenge gives unique opportunities to undergraduates.
“This is the engine of the American economy,” he said. “These people are meeting each other and realizing that entrepreneurship is a viable career path. You can work for yourself and have your own idea and there’s a way to do it.”
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