September 20, 2017 at 10:30am
Dane Lisser

Idea-to-Incubator competition awards top business startup

Turning a good business idea into a reality can be a difficult task, but Millikin University's Center for Entrepreneurship is helping students, faculty and alums make that task a bit easier through its Idea-to-Incubator Pitch Competition.

The competition is an opportunity for all Millikin students, faculty and staff, Executive and Fast-Track MBA students, and alumni that have graduated within the past two years, to pitch their business ideas to entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. The first Idea-to-Incubator Pitch Competition was held last spring during Millikin's Celebrations of Scholarship on April 28, 2017.

The participants had to submit their ideas in one of four idea tracks: Arts & Media Ventures, Social Ventures, STEM Ventures, and Food & Beverage Ventures.

Julie Shields

The finalists received up to $100 towards monthly fees at a co-working space this past summer and specialized mentorship, including a lead mentor and up to three additional mentors, plus other idea building resources.

The finalists selected from the April 2017 competition were Hannah Neuhauser, for her online idea AriaMatch.com; and Skyler Taylor '17 and Dominic Sembiante '17, for their idea called Java Jolt. The teams spent May through July developing their business ideas and recently pitched their ideas again on Sept. 15, for a chance to win $1,500 of seed money.

"We put together a pre-competition at the end of last school year, and the finalists got to work in a co-working space of their choice all summer long, and they had the opportunity to come back and re-pitch for a cash prize," said Julie Shields, director of the Center for Entrepreneurship at Millikin. "The goal is for them to use this money to launch businesses wherever they're at, whether it's here or at home."  

Idea to Incubator

During the competition on Sept. 15, the finalists gave three-minute pitches outlining their business ideas, and engaged in a Q&A session with the guest judges.

Hannah Neuhauser, a senior music performance-vocal major with a minor in entrepreneurship from Winston Salem, N.C., opened the competition by describing her business called AriaMatch.com, an online service that provides a recording program, not only to help determine a customer's singing range, but to match them with PDF files of songs that would fit their voice for an audition.

"When I started singing, it was important to find that perfect audition song," said Neuhauser. "AriaMatch.com is an online service as well as an app that will help more students find audition education tools."

Idea to Incubator

Neuhauser said the site delivers a revolutionary solution to a problem that young singers everywhere have shared, which is finding the perfect audition song for their specific voice. The site offers several articles on how to become a healthier singer and contact information for consolation calls if the customer would like to work with a music educator for help in preparing the song(s) chosen.

Skyler Taylor went a different direction with his presentation and pitched a new business idea called MEDvising. The Decatur, Ill., native and current medical student at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Carbondale, Ill., said plans for Java Jolt, a subscription based coffee service, were not logistical for moving forward.

According to Taylor, MEDvising is a service dedicated to helping students improve their medical school applications. Staff of medical school students, editors and advisors edit applications for grammar and syntax as well as provide feedback on content.

Idea to Incubator

"Editors will know the proper punctuation and will have an idea of what medical schools are looking for in applicants," said Taylor. "50,000 people applied for medical school in 2013, and roughly 20,000 graduated. These numbers will continue to increase."

Based on market knowledge, industry familiarity, future plans and commercialization, the guest judges determined that Skyler Taylor's pitch for MEDvising was the winner of the Idea-to-Incubator Competition.

Idea to Incubator

"I think the competition is a great opportunity for them to practice what it feels like to give a voice to the vision that they've been working on, and that's the most important thing," said Shields.

Shields says the Center for Entrepreneurship is planning to change the reward for next year's competition from a cash prize to money that's put aside with the Center, and finalists will get to work with the Center for Entrepreneurship as a mentor to develop their business idea.

Idea to Incubator

For more information about the Idea-to-Incubator Pitch Competition, visit millikin.edu/entrepreneurship/idea-incubator-competition.