GVSU students advance in pitch competition

GVL / Sara Carte - Grand Valley students and alumni volunteer for Kent County Habitat for Humanity in Grand Rapids on Thursday, Mar. 24, 2016.

GVL / Sara Carte – Grand Valley students and alumni volunteer for Kent County Habitat for Humanity in Grand Rapids on Thursday, Mar. 24, 2016.

Tasman Mattox

In early January, four Grand Valley State University students submitted their ideas to the Outdoor Weber Idea Pitch Competition, hosted by Weber State University. All four of them are now headed to Ogden, Utah, to present their ideas to a series of mentors and judges who will then determine a winner. The winner, chosen from a pool of 10, will get $30,000 to bring their idea to life.  

“Outdoor Weber Contest is a contest sponsored by our business entrepreneurship program,” said Ross Rosier from Ogden Peak Communication. “What they’ve intended to do is drive attention to the entire program by hosting the event.”

The competition is an opportunity for aspiring entrepreneurs to compete for funding for their innovative ideas. 

“This shows that big companies and people care about entrepreneurs and small business, and are putting their money where their mouth is and support the best of us,” said Jordan Vanderham, one of the four GVSU students moving on to the top 10. His product, Orindi, is a cold-weather mask that protects the face from frostbite, hypothermia and more. 

The Outdoor Weber Competition is unique from other competitions, and GVSU students are preparing accordingly. 

“It’s a mentoring session as well as a pitch competition,” Vanderham said. “Usually, it’s ‘Come to the pitch competition and come be mentored by industry experts and stuff.’ This competition has been much more ‘Make sure you bring the questions you need answered.’ This is really atypical.”

Rosier elaborated more on why the competition’s unique format benefits students.

“They’re going to be spending quite a few days meeting with mentors who will help them work on their product and business pitch for Friday,” he said. “Their time here is gonna be spent refining their plans and learning how to network with potential investors. It will help provide them with skills they’ll need as entrepreneurs.”

The biggest draw to the Outdoor Weber Competition is Marcus Lemonis, star of the reality show “The Profit,” where he invested money in small businesses that needed support. 

“I’m most excited to meet Marcus Lemonis. He’s doing the opening ceremonies, announcing the winners and meeting with people,” said Katarina Samardzija, a GVSU student headed for Ogden. Samardzija’s product, Locker Lifestyle, is a brand of wearable, lockable gear for keys, phones and other valuables.

Representing GVSU on this scale is a challenge, but the students involved are ready to rise to it. 

“It’s pretty fun representing Grand Valley,” Vanderham said. “I’ve done it in the past, and I’ll do it again in the future. It’s great that GV supports us and they realize they have ambitious students with good ideas. In turn, we’ll do well to try and support Grand Valley. It’s neat to be a student and have someone else respect you, listen and give you time.”

Representing GVSU comes with a feeling of giving back. 

“I’ve had a lot of exposure and views to my website from the video going up,” Samardzija said. “I’m really proud, and it’s definitely crazy four of us will be able to represent Grand Valley. I’m really excited to be the only girl representing Grand Valley as well. A lot of the connections and advice I’ve gotten has come from the Entrepreneurship Center.”

The students involved have an exciting few days ahead of them, with many chances for connections and change, but they really just feel thankful for how they got there. 

“It’s the people that support you throughout the long haul that I’m so grateful for, the people who put up with my distractions and sleepless nights,” Vanderham said. “I wouldn’t be where I am without them. It’s always a group effort.”