On Tuesday, April 7, IUP’s Eberly College of
Business and Information Technology hosted its second annual Shark Tank
The event was organized by Joette Wisneski
and John Lipinski, codirectors of the ExCEL Leadership Center, and the
Future Entrepreneurs Club.
In this competition, students present
new business ideas to a panel of seasoned judges who evaluate the merits of
their ideas with regards to how well the idea solves a real problem and how implementable
their solution is. This is the first
stage in determining if an idea has what it takes to gain financing and
become a real business entity.
Twenty IUP students submitted ideas for the
competition, and four of the ideas were selected as finalists.
Marissa Fornaro presented her concept for
Goose Chase, a social media app that would help you flock to where the action
is. Travis Meyer and Chris McKinnis teamed up on CampusGo, a concept to bring
bicycle sharing to campus both at IUP and across the country. Ti’Nesha Robinson
developed her ideas for FriendZone, a website that would work to match people
with similar interests who want to make friends. Olivia Topolski developed
Selfarazzi, a concept that allows you to anchor your smart phone to the wall
for hands free selfies.
The judges for the event all have extensive
experience working with startup businesses, and most are active angel investors
and have started business of their own.
Laurie Kuzneski and Michael Molli are both IUP alumni. Both have started their own businesses and
are active members of angel investing groups.
Malcolm Handlesman brings 30+ years of financial and operations
experience, has been a life-long entrepreneur, and is the head of the Pittsburgh
branch of the Keritsu Forum, the largest angel investor network in the United
The fourth judge, Jerry
Richardson, is an assistant director with the Indiana County Center for Economic
Laurie and Malcolm were
returning judges from last year’s panel who both commented that the caliber of
the presentations has gone up. They were both impressed by the level of analysis
done by the students at IUP.
Over 150 spectators turned out to watch this
year’s competition, including Marissa Foraro’s grandmother, Carol Gorman, who
drove six hours to see the competition.
“Kudos to the faculty of IUP for
creating the Shark Tank competition!” said Mrs. Gorman. “It was thrilling for
me to experience first-hand the knowledge, confidence, and professional
demeanor that my granddaughter has attained while at IUP that will allow her to
overcome challenges and to succeed in the real world.”
Last year’s winner, Ryan Brannon, has continued
to develop his concept, New Leaf. This
year, he followed his Shark Tank victory by winning the $10,000 first prize in
the Pennsylvania State System Business Plan Competition. Both faculty and the judges have offered
to work with this year’s competitors to help continue developing great ideas at
The winner of the contest was Olivia Topolski
for Selfarazzi. She was awarded $1,000
to help her continue the development of her concept. All of the participants received cash awards
for their efforts.
The prize money was made available thanks to a
generous donation from the Kuzneski Financial Group, and grant money that was
obtained by Joette Wisneski through DCED.
Special thanks goes out to the Future
Entrepreneurs Club of IUP, Raj Murthy for audio-visual assistance, and the
support of the Dean’s office from Cynthia Strittmatter and Robert Camp.
Eberly College of Business and Information Technology