Pitching Dreams

More than 200 expected for collegiate entrepreneurship conference

Published: Feb 20, 2014
Karla Solis Zuniga MBA ’14 will be competing for start-up funding with her business pitch for a timing device used to alert women when their mascara has expired.
Karla Solis Zuniga MBA ’14 will be competing for start-up funding with her business pitch for a timing device used to alert women when their mascara has expired.
In the 90 seconds of a business pitch, a student must tell their story, define their product or service and entice those listening into the shared belief their startup idea is more than a dream.

“Pitching is the most critical part of entrepreneurship, because it gives you the confidence to get up and do it again,” said James Zebrowski ’14, president of UT Entrepreneurs, which is hosting the Southeast Entrepreneurship Conference (SEEC) Feb. 21-22 at UT.

Aside from the 25 national speakers and more than 200 students expected to be in attendance, one of the main events is the Spartan Pitch Competition where participants compete for seed money to kick-start their venture.

Karla Solis Zuniga MBA ’14 has refined her pitch, even practicing this past weekend with Toastmasters. Zuniga has a provisional patent on a timing device used to alert people when their mascara has expired.

“Last year I was going through my makeup and trying to decide what items to toss,” she said. When she later heard from a friend who got an eye infection from using old mascara, Zuniga turned an idea into action. She’s pitching her product at SEEC and looking forward to talking with other entrepreneurs.

“I’m taking it as a networking platform,” said Zuniga, of Dallas, TX. “I’m going to introduce myself to everyone, and hopefully get the resources I need in terms of guidance and advice on licensing my product.”

The conference is organized and run entirely by UT students with minimal oversight from entrepreneurship faculty. This kind of experience equips students with real-world skills and models the way of looking at the world through an entrepreneur’s eyes.

“The entrepreneurial mindset — which is what we teach in our program — is, at its core, creative problem solving. Our students learn to articulate problems and use creative problem solving to find innovative solutions,” said Professor Rebecca White, director of the UT Entrepreneurship Center, which recently was awarded the Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship Program Award from the United States Association for Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

“It includes taking risks and then learning how to learn from failures and mistakes,” White said. “This kind of thinking is valuable no matter what a person chooses as a career or vocation in life.”

While the largest regional SEO conference, UT’s SEEC is meant to be big enough to support networking but small enough that deeper conversations can be fostered.

“We are trying to create a culture where you can sit down with a CEO,” said Zebrowski, adding that conference presenters make sure everyone waiting in a line to speak with them gets the chance.

“I was one of those kids in line,” said Brett McQuaide ’16, presidential director of UT Entrepreneurs.

McQuaide said UT students have the most to gain from attending as there is very little out-of-pocket travel expense, and the $10 conference fee for UT students is refunded upon check-in the first day.

“Dr. White says 80 percent of success is showing up,” said McQuaide. “There’s no excuse for not being there.”

McQuaide, who used to drink a lot of hot chocolate where he grew up in Andover, MA, will be pitching his idea of a hot beverage stirrer that gauges safe drinking temperatures.

“Being involved in UT Entrepreneurs has been the best thing that’s happened to me,” he said, from making his classes more applicable to his real-world start-up to networking with CEOs and other students ardent about business.

“You have to be passionate about what you want to do in life if you want to be successful,” McQuaide said.

For UT Entrepreneurs, SEEC is just a beginning.

 
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