Swimming with "sharks" at CMU

Student entrepreneurs pitch startup ideas to investors at New Venture Competition

| Author: Ari Harris

Eight months after kicking off Central Michigan University's annual New Venture Competition, more than 30 teams of student entrepreneurs gathered in French Auditorium to compete for more than $100,000 in seed capital, cash prizes and in-kind services. 


The April 12 pitching competition was part of a  larger program of entrepreneurship that included 12 workshops and two additional pitching events, giving students many opportunities to connect with experienced entrepreneurs, angel investors, CMU faculty and regional business leaders.

The teams represented nearly every college at CMU. 

Who Won?

The College of Business Administration has a list of New Venture winners on its website.

Brendan Mantey, a senior philosophy major from Armada, Michigan, said he and his teammate, Kyle Platt, a 2018 computer science graduate, met through a mutual passion for sustainability. They needed help to develop their idea for Revolve Farms, a sustainable greenhouse company, into a feasible business plan. 

"There's been a bit of a learning curve since we aren't business majors. We went to a lot of workshops, and those were so helpful for learning how to start a business. We also did a lot of outside research and reading about our idea," Mantey said.

NVC Start Up Gallery sign

Each competing team hosted an information table in the gallery, answering questions about their products and services for judges and guests.

Ignite Donuts setting up

Ignite Donuts, competing for its second year, plans to provide late-night sweet snacks for students on the CMU campus.

Several teams, such as Ignite Donuts, were competing for a second year. Casey Croad, a senior entrepreneurship and psychology major with a leadership minor, said working with mentor Tyson Dubay from Aramark Foods had been eye-opening and beneficial. 

"By building a strong connection and gaining more credibility for our business over time, we have been able to move forward with our objective of selling on campus. We now have an exclusivity contract with Aramark to begin selling this fall," Croad said.

The Ignite Donuts team won the Epsilon Nu Tau Fraternity Audience Choice Award, earning $1,000 to build their business.

Jars of grains

Students developed business plans for a wide range of products and services — including a home-brewing kit from Ale Academy.

Students doing a pitch for their business

During the first round of competition, student teams had 10 minutes to pitch their business to a panel of judges, followed by a 10-minute Q&A session.

Following the second round of pitches, CMU's Mentor in Residence at the Isabella Bank Institute for Entrepreneurship, Ross Noel, announced the final four teams:

  • Brown Crown's Beauty, a beauty supplier specializing in products for people of color.
  • PEBL, a tool for locating electrical boxes behind walls during home construction or remodeling.
  • Betsperts, LLC., an online community for sports gambling.
  • Atypical Concepts, a carbon filter designed to improve the quality of low-cost liquor.

But the competition wasn’t over for the remaining teams. Students wiped their sweaty palms, adjusted suit jackets and did a few nervous stretches as great white sharks circled onscreen as the theme song from “Jaws” played ominously in the background.

Held in French Auditorium in front of two large projection screens, the pitch competition offered one last chance to compete for prizes such as an audience choice award and best two-minute pitch award.

CMU Pitch Zone

Daniel Mwaniki, left, and Matthew Meyering share the story of their lifestyle fitness and nutrition company, Contrl Fitness, during the two-minute pitch competition.


A panel of six judges rated teams based on the description of their product or service, the potential target market, the qualifications of team members and the business plan.

Antoinette Lewis, a senior from Lansing, Michigan, competed with her beauty supply company, Brown Crown's Beauty. She competed in the final four and won the $10,000 award for Best Lifestyle Venture.

Lewis, an entrepreneurship major with a minor in business management, said she had attended every workshop and worked closely with her mentor, Tom Rohrer, director of the Great Lakes Institute for Sustainable Systems at CMU.

"The competition has been so nerve-wracking, but I did so much preparation, and I'm confident in my plan."

Antoinette Lewis winning Best Lifestyle Venture

Antoinette Lewis, center, said her mentor coached her to have confidence in both her business plan and her presentation skills

Betsperts winning Best Overall Venture Award

Betsperts, LLC, won the David and Janice Underwood Best Overall Venture Award and the BlueWater Angels Mentoring Award, valued at over $25,000.

PEBL won the award for Most Impact on Michigan, earning $10,000 to bring their business to life and joined sustainable greenhouse company Revolve Farms and Vrae Foods, an outdoor-raised chicken distributor, as winners of the NVC Summer Accelerator Award. The $30,000 award includes seed funding, in-kind services and an additional six weeks of high-intensity mentoring in CMU's business incubator.

PEBL co-founder Troy Guinn, a senior double majoring in accounting and economics with a minor in Spanish, said the competition was a great way to wrap up his years at CMU.

"I am able to take what I've learned in the classroom and use it in the competition," he said.

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