Eberly Hosts Successful Second Annual Shark Tank Event

Posted on 4/10/2015 3:10:20 PM

Shark Tank judges and participants in the Eberly Atrium.On Tuesday, April 7, IUP’s Eberly College of Business and Information Technology hosted its second annual Shark Tank event. 

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 States.

The fourth judge, Jerry Richardson, is an assistant director with the Indiana County Center for Economic Operations.

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 IUP.

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.

John Lipinski

Eberly College of Business and Information Technology