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Student-pitch competition provides opportunity to win up to $500,000

UNC Seniors Ilyas Colie and Manas Takalpati, co-founders of TriVent sit outside the Kenan-Flagler Business School on Thursday, March 30, 2023. outside of Kenan-Flagler Business School on Thursday, March 30, 2023.

UNC seniors Ilyas Colie and Manas Takalpati are co-founders of Triangle Ventures, an organization that aims to connect student entrepreneurs across the Triangle by matching founders with similar ideas, finding internship opportunities and offering working spaces. 

They are running a student-pitch competition with the Kenan-Flagler Business School as their primary advisor and supporter. The winning teams have the opportunity to win up to $500,000 in funding from Fusen. The kickoff began earlier this month. 

Colie and Takalpati founded TriVent after living together in San Francisco last summer while working in start-up companies. 

“In San Francisco, in those two months, I learned probably more than I've learned in all my time at UNC,” Takalpati said. 

During their stay, they were surprised at how easy it was to find other founders, mentors, job opportunities at different start-ups and venture capital firms.

After returning to North Carolina, the duo found that although there is a venture ecosystem in the Triangle, there are not a lot of opportunities to link students across universities. 

“We felt that there is a lot of resources that, for example, are available in San Francisco and Silicon Valley to students as well as young budding entrepreneurs that are not necessarily as available here,” Colie said. 

After a pre-launch event for TriVent, Takalpati said that the business school took notice of their organization and proposed working together to promote innovation and start-ups for students. 

First-year Sonia Shah, TriVent's director of organizational relationships, said that the idea for the competition came about because they wanted to have a big event this semester — not only to put out the word about TriVent but to start connecting student talent across the state.

TriVent contacted Fusen, a venture capital firm that connects students with mentors, investors and talent. The firm showed interest in funding undergraduate and graduate students and most importantly, they were interested in TriVent’s model for the competition. 

“They were willing to give us up to 500k as an investment for student entrepreneurs, so that's how they kind of came about the idea of having a pitch competition because they have this capital that Fusen was offering us in cooperation for this event,” Shah said. 

Takalpati said that Fusen is doing this for students, but they also need a way to attract good talent. One of the ways to do that is through competitions. By giving away a set amount of money, attracting start-ups becomes possible. 

Fusen will judge which teams qualify for up to $500,000, but there is no limit to how many teams can win the monetary prize.  

“So there can be multiple teams winning 500 grand, which our goal is every team,” Colie said. “Which is why we have a month of start-up boot camp leading up to it with lots of different speaker panels, mentor workshops and we offer office hours with industry experts.”  

Each weekend in April, TriVent will host an event focusing on a different industry. For example, on April 22, Shah will lead an event on the healthcare industry. 

“Hopefully, students who are interested or have an idea for a healthcare-related start-up can get advice on their idea at this event,” she said. 

The competition is open to any undergraduate or graduate student in North Carolina. However, the focus is on the Triangle because of the close proximity between multiple universities. 

TriVent will arrange transportation for students at Duke University and N.C. State University to get to Chapel Hill through buses and possibly Uber vouchers. 

“We just want all these students to be working together rather than just thinking, 'I can only work within State' or 'only work within UNC or Duke',” Takalpati said. 

Their overall mission is to bring more funding to the research triangle to empower people to be innovative because they can receive the resources they need. 

Although TriVent’s co-founders will be graduating this year, they want to pass on the funding sources, network of mentors and community that comes out of this competition to current community stakeholders like Innovate Carolina. 

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“We have the talent here. We need the funding. We need more and more funding to come into here, which will entice more people to create more startups, which will create that positive feedback loop for innovation that is, honestly, really going to continue to push this place forward,” Takalpati said. 


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