Hundreds of students will rapidly share their startup ideas at the annual Carolina Challenge Pitch Party Thursday evening in the Blue Zone at Kenan Memorial Stadium, as they compete for financial awards.
This year, about 115 student teams are expected to participate, junior Mary Ashley Murrah, student president of the Carolina Challenge team, said. It's an increase from last year’s approximately 80 teams.
While the event is coordinated and hosted by the UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School's Entrepreneurship Center, the Pitch Party competition attracts students from all disciplines.
“We believe that entrepreneurs come from all different disciplines and majors, and that is one of the many reasons why entrepreneurship is such an exciting space — because it brings together a diverse set of people and ideas,” Vickie Gibbs, executive director of the Entrepreneurship Center, said in an email.
The competition is divided into five categories: early stage, early stage social, late-stage, late-stage social and the newly introduced, graduate student category.
During an hour-long segment, students will pitch their ideas to judges who will circulate around the room and distribute 10 tokens to the startups they like best.
“Pitch party is super electric. There are a lot of ideas flowing, a lot of collaboration between students at UNC coming from different clubs, organizations and classes,” Murrah said. “It’s really diverse, as in students are coming from everywhere on UNC’s campus. It’s not just kids in the B-school or kids in the entrepreneurship minor.”
With about 300 judges expected to attend, students will have many opportunities to refine and become more confident in their pitches as the night progresses.
“It was very busy, but at the same time, I wasn't very nervous or overwhelmed,” said senior Camille Wyatt, who participated in last year’s competition and won first place with her team. “I was just really excited because I put so much research and time into our product. It was just really great having conversations with people.”
The judges include business leaders, venture capitalists and fellow students interested in entrepreneurship. By interacting with the judges, students will be provided with valuable feedback and advice.
This is one of the reasons why sophomore Caroline Ciaramitaro is excited about Pitch Party. Ciaramitaro and two of her closet friends will be pitching a texting service that personally matches students with mental health resources.
They came up with the idea after determining that people are aware of mental health resources but are not accessing them. Their startup aims to match people with services that will fulfill their needs in the moment.
“I think the Pitch Party is a great opportunity to really get out there and get dirty and have an experience that is really hard to get anywhere else,” said Ciaramitaro. “You don't have a chance to talk to like 300 people really quickly and pitch stuff like it’s all on the line, and you don't have that much to lose, so I think we are just really excited to have a hands-on experience.”
After the pitching period ends, Amy Nelson, chief executive officer of Venture for America, will give a keynote speech.
Following this, the winners of the 14 monetary awards will be announced.
“Competing in such a large competition surrounded by a lot of really excited students really passionate about their idea kind of puts a little more passion in you,” Murrah said. “I think it really makes people that participate in Pitch Party a little more jazzed about what is happening on campus in terms of entrepreneurship.”
Aspyn Fulcher, assistant director of student engagement for the Entrepreneurship Center, hopes participants leave the event more confident in their ability to share their ideas publicly.
“I hope they become more confident in their ability to deliver an awesome pitch, navigate a conversation with an investor and make connections with mentors and other students that they can build on after the event," Fulcher said in an email.
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