Sixth Annual Shark Tank Competition Goes Virtual

A virtual Shark Tank competition workshop.

After months of preparation, a select group of Saint Peter’s University students participated in the Sixth Annual Saint Peter’s University Shark Tank Pitch Competition. Organized by the Ignite Institute at Saint Peter’s University, in conjunction with the Frank J. Guarini School of Business and sponsored by The Provident Bank Foundation and The Pechter Foundation, students had the opportunity to compete to win more than $4,000 in total prize money. Given existing limitations on group gatherings, this year’s competition was held virtually.

“After five years of running our annual entrepreneurial competition, we had to be the most entrepreneurial ourselves this year in response to the pandemic and quarantine in order to offer all of the robust programming, boot camps, workshops and the final event in a purely virtual format,” said Mary Kate Naatus, KPMG dean of the Frank J. Guarini School of Business. “Our team and our students did a fantastic job, and we are so grateful to our sponsors, judges, student participants and everyone who made this program an overwhelming success.”

The competition included student entrepreneurs from a broad cross-section of academic disciplines. Accordingly, ideas reflected the diversity of applicants, with the pitches including both for-profit and non-profit organizations and spanning several industries and markets. In accordance with the Ignite Institute’s mission to spur socially impactful entrepreneurship, several students focused on creating businesses that would directly impact the Jersey City community.

“The focus of our student entrepreneurs on creating innovative organizations that produce a social impact is indicative of their desire to produce positive outcomes not only for themselves, but for their communities,” said Carlos Miguel Gutierrez, executive director of the Ignite Institute.

Prior to the competition, participants took part in a series of workshops that sought to impart the budding entrepreneurs with important skills for building a business. Led by subject matter experts, the workshops focused on the legal aspects of starting a business, communications, marketing and finance.

“It was great to speak with the students about the legal considerations that start-ups often encounter,” said Steven Llanes ’02, member of the Saint Peter’s University Board of Regents.“I am proud of them and thankful for the Ignite Institute’s work to train this impressive group of emerging leaders.”

Evaluated by a panel of top business and civic leaders, competitors were expected to not only provide a five minute pitch presentation, but also answer questions about their business models. Samantha Plotino, executive director of the The Provident Bank Foundation and a judge for the competition stated, “The Provident Bank Foundation is proud to support student entrepreneurs at Saint Peter’s and in the community, whose innovative ideas help boost the economy. All of our finalists and winners demonstrated ingenuity, strong business acumen, strong presentation skills and a commitment to positive social impact.”

The winning team, Home Free.

Several of this year’s Shark Tank participants were also able to benefit from becoming certified Social Entrepreneurs by completing a 20-hour blended-learning course, SE 101- Principles of Social Entrepreneurship, offered through the GCSEN Foundation. This certification was part of broader year long mentorship for young urban entrepreneurs, which was led by Chanaz Gargouri, Ph.D., assistant professor of business administration, who observed, “Our students have grown and been transformed by becoming immersed in this extended training and mentorship program, and they all successfully infused social impact into the businesses they created.”

Upon completion of the program, several winners were announced. Home Free, Inc. a Jersey City based eco-friendly scooter company, led by Julien A. Panepinto ’22, Marta Ortega ’20, Daniel Metri’20 and Alina Geck ’21, won the $1,200 grand prize. The second place prize of $800 was awarded to Asthi Chatterjee ’22, whose organization, Back in the Good Ol’ Days, seeks to provide a healthy and safe environment for senior citizens to thrive. In third place, Alexandrya Lopez ’21 with Para MiGente, a nonprofit geared towards empowering LatinX communities, received the $400 third place award. Taking home the $1,000 Social Impact Award was Ahmed Shehata ’21 with Thrive Food and Delivery, which focuses on providing a community’s most vulnerable individuals with grocery delivery. Tiffany Do ’21 earned the second place award of $500 for social impact for her business, Eco Urban Access, which incentivizes recycling with financial rewards. Finally, Scolio, a bookbag for individuals with scoliosis, developed by Tyshia Alphonse ’22 won the $250 audience choice award.

“The Shark Tank competition was an amazing experience,” said Panepinto.“The Home Free team has earned valuable knowledge and we are proud and excited to have been awarded the first place award by the distinguished judges of the competition. We have worked hard to get to the point where we are now. Saint Peter’s has been a great help to us and has taught us many different things through the workshops and mentorship program that will benefit us as we continue our journey and grow Home Free as a true-green company.”