Over the past five years, the students of Ithaca College have launched an average of six companies per year. According to Brad Treat, who teaches entrepreneurship at Ithaca College, that amounts to nearly $400,000 in funding from investors, business plan and idea competitions, acquisitions, and advance orders. One such funding opportunity, Ithaca College’s Startup Idea Demo Day, is just a few weeks away for the young entrepreneurs – and this year, there’s a new twist.
IC Startup Idea Demo Day will be hosted at Rev: Ithaca Startup Works on November 17, giving the event more space and more splash, with room for the community to join in the audience. Student teams have auditioned to pitch business ideas of all forms and functions, and only twelve will make the final cut. Each team will get $100 for making it to the final round.
While this is the sixth year that Ithaca College has run an event like this, this is the first iteration of its new format and the first year that IC Startup Idea Demo Day will be held at Rev – a location change the school says is promising. Sean Reid, Dean of the Ithaca College School of Business, praises the move as an opportunity to cement the business school’s relationship with the entrepreneurial community in Ithaca. “It’s a chance for our students to be exposed to Rev, and I think it’s great for the community to have the opportunity to come watch our students, because they are incredibly entrepreneurial,” he says. “They’re really remarkable, and it’s not just business students – all these kids have a lot of hustle.
And hustle they will. Hearing the pitches will be a panel of local entrepreneurs — including John Alexander, founder of CBORD, and Michael Axelrod, an Ithaca College alum and digital media entrepreneur — who have a prize pot of $5,000 in startup support to give away. Teams will make an ask for an amount of money relative to their business’s specific needs. The panel has four minutes to question teams after the pitch – a feature that forces the teams to know their business plan inside and out. After all pitches have been heard, the panel will determine how much of their request is granted. There’s some strategy involved: pitch high and you may oversell, pitch low and you may not get all the money you need to move forward.
“They can be very broad in what they think they need the money for – getting a prototype made, going to visit a customer in California, going to a trade show or conference,” explains Brad. “If it’ll move the business forward, that’s what we want to see.” Teams awarded money will submit invoices and receipts for reimbursement, adding a layer of accountability to the award.
The pitches are fast-paced, clocking in at four minutes… exactly. “We have a big clock with a countdown timer, and it’s dramatic. There’s a real thrill to it – it’s a bit like a game show,” says Brad, who runs the event. Brad is a familiar face in the local startup scene. Many of the students who take part in IC Startup Idea Demo Day and other business competitions on the Ithaca College campus have gone through one of Brad’s classes and began their entrepreneurial careers there.
Part of the motivation for structuring the event with an ask-and-receive model was a desire to encourage the teams to keep pursuing their businesses — win or lose. In past years, teams that fell short of the large prize were often disheartened, Brad explains. The new structure takes into account that the needs of different industries vary greatly. “The analogy I often use is, tell me which is better, a ’63 Ferrari, or an apple orchard?” says Brad. “I don’t know, am I hungry, do I want to race cars? They’re so completely different, and that’s how different the businesses we see are.” Often, teams are composed of students from any of Ithaca College’s five schools, supporting the idea that pitches can’t necessarily be compared… well, apples to apples.
“I put entrepreneurship in the same category as creativity and leadership, and those transcend all the Ithaca College schools,” notes the Dean. “We have entrepreneurial musicians and communications students and theatre arts students – that’s really the best part of this kind of event.”
Also up for grabs are two other awards: the Sustainability Award, for the pitch that is most focused on clean solutions, and the Audience Choice award, where the community can vote for their favorite pitch. The competition is fierce and the stakes are high for the students, making IC Startup Idea Demo Day an entertaining evening for its audience. “We want to community to come out and see how incredibly smart and creative these business ideas are,” says the Dean, “and this will certainly be exciting.”
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