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Seventh Annual Shark Tank Competition Brings Out the Entrepreneurial Spirit of Saint Peter’s Students

Each year Saint Peter’s hosts the Shark Tank Competition in which industry experts, known as sharks, judge students’ business pitches based on an intense rubric. While the student participants and business ideas change every year, one thing remains constant – the entrepreneurial spirit of Saint Peter’s University students.

The seventh annual Shark Tank Competition was held virtually on May 6. The event was organized by the Ignite Institute at Saint Peter’s University, in conjunction with the Frank J. Guarini School of Business and sponsored by Mission 50 with additional support from The Soccer Learning Center and the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation.

Greg Dell’Aquila, chief executive officer of JDA Group, founder of Mission 50 and member of the Frank J. Guarini School of Business Advisory Board. (Photo by Eugene Parciasepe, Jr.)

Greg Dell’Aquila, chief executive officer of JDA Group, founder of Mission 50 and member of the Frank J. Guarini School of Business Advisory Board, led the charge to sponsor this year’s competition. “The Shark Tank Competition at Saint Peter’s is all about supporting innovation and entrepreneurship in Hudson County, which is what I have been doing for the past 15 years at JDA Group and at Mission 50 for the past 10. The more entrepreneurs, the more start-ups; the more start-ups, the more the economy in Hudson County flourishes,” he explained.

Mission 50 is an 80,000-square-foot, newly rebranded boutique office and coworking community located at 50 Harrison Street in Hoboken, N.J. The space, developed by JDA Group LLC, provides a collaborative and vibrant work environment for solo entrepreneurs and growing startups to seasoned businesses of 100-plus team members.  Participants in this year’s competition were awarded with one free week of co-working space.

“New Jersey has always been a center for innovation and we all benefit from advances the community supports,” said Dell’Aquila. “You never know where the next life-changing idea will come from so we view Mission 50 as one of the top entrepreneurial communities that supports this progress.”

Chanaz Gargouri, Ph.D., assistant professor of business, is one of the faculty members who leads the Shark Tank competition each year. She organizes the bootcamp, identifies sponsors and coaches student entrepreneurs. “It is so rewarding to support our student entrepreneurs in creating successful and impactful businesses that create positive outcomes for the students and the broader community,” she said.

The business presentations in this year’s competition included Agro-Forward by Farough Sow ’23; Common Cents Finance by Anthony Crincoli ’21 and Nicholas Sadek ’21; Fasense by Eberlyne Legerme ’22; JoEl Handmade by Elsa Jonsson, a Hudson County Community College student; Odula Corp. by Mathieu Odula ’21; and The C.A.M.E.R.A. Inc. by Tiana Brown.

Agro-Forward is a turn-key farm designed to help support hunger needs in the country of Mauritania. Common Cents Finance is an educational media platform designed to promote financial literacy. Fasense is a company designed to help individuals find luxury items at an affordable price. JoEl Handmade is a direct-to-consumer handmade jewelry company. Odula Corp. is a business consulting firm, which helps business owners apply for loans and grants and also serves as a notary public. The C.A.M.E.R.A. Inc. is a non-profit organization designed to bring awareness of media industries to schools that may not have the resources to do so.

Tiana Brown, digital media and communications graduate assistant for Saint Peter’s University athletics and winner of this year’s Shark Tank Competition.

The judges for this year’s competition included Blaise Ffrench ‘12 ’14, entrepreneur, actor, model and co-owner of BODYARMOR SuperDrink; Tom Luddy ’74, former managing director, vice chair of global investment management and portfolio manager in the US Equity Group for JPMorgan Chase; Traci Jackson, executive director within the Global Technology Infrastructue (GTI) Workplace Technology Services team at JPMorgan Chase; Ed Majkowski ’91, partner in Ernst & Young’s Financial Services Office (FSO); and Claire Pedulla, director of community for JDA Management.

The first place winner and winner of the audience choice award in this year’s competition was The C.A.M.E.R.A. Inc. The C.A.M.E.R.A. Inc. stands for the Communications, Arts, Media and Entertainment Revival Association, and it is a non-profit organization designed to give high school students in underfunded school systems better exposure to media and entertainment industries including, but not limited to journalism, television broadcasting, film, theatre and music.

“I always loved helping others growing up and founding a nonprofit organization has always been a desire of mine,” said Brown. “The Shark Tank competition application caught my eye because it called for socially impactful businesses to apply.”

Brown graduated from Penn State University in 2019 with a degree in telecommunications and she currently works as a digital media and communications graduate assistant for Saint Peter’s University athletics and is pursuing her M.B.A. She works as the technical director for athletics utilizing the University’s mobile broadcast production unit to stream home games on the ESPN family of networks.

Participation in the competition compelled Brown to finally decide on a non-profit mission. She realized that media and communications were never a topic of conversation in high school during career days and college fairs. She always loved visual arts, but having a career where she could be creative did not seem feasible. She is dedicated to educating the next generation of students about the types of media and communications careers that are available to them.

“Thanks to this competition, not only was I able to start operations much earlier than anticipated, but I was also able to begin applying for the 501(c)(3) designation and confirm a partnership with another organization less than a week after the founding date. Knowing that I’ll actually be able to help students who are in communities similar to where I grew up and execute the mission of the nonprofit is extremely fulfilling and exciting,” said Brown.

The second place winner of this year’s competition was Common Cents Finance. The Social Impact Award was given to Agro-Forward and the Branding Award was presented to JoEl Handmade.

“We are so proud of each and every one of our presenters,” said Mary Kate Naatus, Ph.D., KPMG dean of the Frank J. Guarini School of Business. “They are all making a difference in their communities and on our campus.”