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Rising Stars: Real Elevator Pitch Competition Brings Students from Near and Far

The Chaifetz Center for Entrepreneurship’s Fifth Annual Real Elevator Pitch is becoming a world-class competition, literally.

Elevator pitch

SLU senior Corey James presents his elevator pitch for his business idea Magis Chocolate. Photo by James W. Holzer 

Students from as far as California and Canada arrived at One Metropolitan Square in downtown St. Louis on a rainy Sunday morning, Dec. 4. They came to make their pitches to more than 30 captains of industry.

Among them were Erin Dabbs, a junior from the University of Nebraska at Omaha, who brought her idea about how to curb cellphone users from distracted driving. Stoemer Scott, a junior at the University of Dayton, pitched his idea for a portable solar energy business that would donate its product for every one sold.

Fiona Kalensky, a junior from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, carried a stuffed cat – a prototype of a tactile therapy method for treating Alzheimer’s disease. Keenan Sarani from University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, shared his colorful and creative vision for encouraging children to take their allergy medicine.

Some 14 students from other schools competed with as many SLU students. Among the Billikens were senior Corey James, who was there to share his idea for Magis Chocolate; junior Molly Layman, who along with her partner Grace Nyikes, hopes to improve the quality and quantity of food and jobs available in North St. Louis; and graduate student Dharti Shah, who offered her idea for providing a new phone application that would provide consumers with more control over their health care.

This is a great opportunity for these students to gain direct access to outstanding business leaders.”

Tim Hayden, director of the Chaifetz Center for Entrepreneurship

The rules were straightforward: step into the elevator, make your pitch and convince a judge to offer a business card in the time it takes to travel the length of the building – less than one minute. The top three competitors with the most cards then have the chance to pitch again – this time in a Tesla as it travels a few blocks around the building. In the Tesla, the finalists vie for their placement and prizes.

During the competition, the students met industry leaders including alumni Rick Forshaw (Cook ’80), Barry Cervantes (Grad Cook ’79), Maureen “Mo” Moore (Cook ’82), Brian Nottingham (A&S ‘01) and Chaifetz School senior adjunct faculty member Laura Burkemper (Grad Cook ‘94).

At the end of the competition, two grand prize winners – one for-profit and one not-for-profit – received cash prizes and all-expenses-paid trips to a business conference in Austin, Texas. Second and third place winners in each category received cash prizes.

Group photo

University students and judges pose for a group photo following the competition at One Metropolitan Square in downtown St. Louis. Photo by James W. Holzer

The Winners, Not-for-Profit Track:

  • First place: Erin Dabbs from the University of Nebraska Omaha
  • Second place: Dharti Shah from Saint Louis University
  • Third place: Caleigh Bemont from the University of Iowa

The Winners, For-Profit Track:

  • First place: Fiona Kalensky from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Second place: George Daniel from the University of Minnesota
  • Third place: Amanda Chan from the University of Waterloo (Canada)

Though he did not place in the top three, James said he felt as if he has won as well, particularly since he made arrangements to meet with Moore, owner of Saddleback Chocolates in Lebanon, Illinois.

“This is exactly what we are about,” said Tim Hayden, director of the Chaifetz Center for Entrepreneurship. “This is a great opportunity for these students to gain direct access to outstanding business leaders.”

Now the Center is preparing for its next competition, Pitch and Catch – which is planned for the spring. Watch the video here.