MPowered picks eight to win $1,000

By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 9, 2012

After 4,537 entrepreneurial pitches spanning eight different categories, nine months of planning, two rounds of cuts and one entrepreneurship workshop summit, eight University students each received $1,000 to help make their business ideas realities on Sunday.

An HIV vaccine, car alarm alert system and University health food stand were just some of the student ideas that received startup money during the 1000 Pitches Award Ceremony, a culmination of the annual business competition.

Hosted by MPowered — a student-run non-profit organization that fosters student entrepreneurship — 1000 Pitches is a University-wide business competition in which undergraduate and graduate students can submit short video pitches detailing a unique idea in categories ranging from Health to Education to Small Business & Consumer Products.

Winners of past 1000 Pitches competitions made speeches and gave advice to the finalists during the ceremony, including Engineering senior Keith Porter, the co-founder of A2B Bikeshare, and University alum Steve Dean, the co-founder of Arbor Haven Foods, a gluten-free food company based in Ann Arbor.

Representatives from Google, one of the event sponsors, were also in attendance and granted the Mobile Apps award to Engineering sophomore Robert Small.

Small won the Mobile App contest with Hubba Hubba, a smartphone app that will give skateboarders real-time information on skating locations, including whether or not the spot is commonly patrolled by police.

Small said he plans to use the grant money to help outsource development or design elements of the app if he can’t do them himself.

“I had this idea, I’ve been wanting to make it happen, and I figured hey, I may as well enter it into the competition,” Small said. “It was nice to see how other people felt about it.”

The Web & Software award went to LSA junior Jessica Ruiz, the creator of Family First, a social networking-type website where users can connect to family members across the nation, in the vein of Google Plus.

Ruiz said she plans to apply for more grants in order to finance her endeavor, as well as put a team together. She said she was required to apply to the competition as part of an entrepreneurship class and didn’t initially give much thought to winning.

“I’m happy I won, obviously,” Ruiz said. “It’s a good foot in the door for future entrepreneurial activities.”

LSA sophomore Max Gilles, the marketing director of MPowered, said the event showcased exceptional University talent and that he’s looking forward to continuing the competition next year.

“It was really great to see the energy and the passion from the students here,” Gilles said. “It was really great to see all the speakers too, the past winners.”

Student entrepreneurs will have at least two more chances to win grant money to further their startup ideas. At the end of the ceremony, Thomas Zurbuchen, the University’s associate dean of entrepreneurial programs, announced he will host another entrepreneurial competition this coming March, with a payout of $5,000 to one winner.

MPowered also announced it is hosting another competition in January in association with Start Garden, a $15-million fund that invests in two business propositions each week. During the competition, selected students will participate in a live “Shark Tank”-style pitch contest — a format based on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank”. Two students will each win a prize of $5,500 for their enterprise.

1000 Pitches is one of several annual events held by MPowered. The club also hosts career fair, a Startup Weekend where students pitch and develop a business plan in 54 hours, and a two-week trip to Kenya in which University students aid Kenyan high school students to develop businesses.

All pitch videos and additional information on the winners can be found on MPowered’s website.