By Len La Rocca
Contestants were welcomed into the shark tank at Mayo Concert Hall for the College’s ninth Mayo Business Plan Competition Finals on April 3 at 5 p.m. to present their business plans to judges in hopes of winning the grand prize of $30,000 to fund their businesses.
Preliminary presentations narrowed the competition down to three teams — Code The Future, a STEM education program for grades second through eighth, Sixth Sense, a headwear used to warn users of dangers outside their scope of vision, and Symbiotic Games, an entertainment company pushing its game “Propose a Roast,” which is modeled similarly to “Cards Against Humanity.”
In 30-minute presentations, the teams proposed their business plans down to a ‘T’ as judges pondered which team had the business worthy of the grand prize.
The judge panel was comprised of College alumni who have since found careers in the world of business. The panel consisted of Eric Szabo (’97), Christine Calandra (’04), Joseph Haddock (’97), Dennis Morgan (’94) and Blair Worrall (’78).
First to present was Code The Future, led by senior business management major Sarah Sleiman and senior accounting major Pulkit Gupta. Their business is based on the lack of early education in the field of STEM.
“We tried the best we could,” Sleiman said. “We’ve been working on this for months and months and months. I’m proud of where we’ve gotten to. Fingers crossed.”
As an already up-and-running business, they have offered their services to schools and have taught students in a range of STEM areas, such as robot engineering, music programming and smart car development. They also offer their services on the weekend, serving as an educational camp. According to their presentation, they have already educated 410 students and look to grow their business with Facebook ads.
“This has just been an absolutely phenomenal journey,” Gupta said. “No matter what happens on stage we’re just going to keep this boat going.”
Next up was Sixth Sense with senior finance major Justin Fernandez and senior biology major Sai Batchu. Their device, Sixth Sense, is a wearable sensor that detects when somebody is coming up from behind, outside the user’s field of vision. The sensor alerts users through vibration or an audible ringing of danger behind them.
Their business is based on safety, as they presented dangerous scenarios using news clips about people who were taken away from behind by an attacker while jogging or walking.
The pair had a prototype used to give a demonstration of the device. However, the judges were skeptical about false alarms coming from this device. Fernandez and Batchu assured the judges that the chance of false alarms can be brought down to zero percent once they hire an engineer.
The business partners felt confident about their presentation afterward.
“I think we did great,” Fernandez said. “The product works or is getting there to working. I feel really good.”
The last presentation from Symbiotic Games came from senior finance major Ben Schulman, junior computer science major Thomas Holland and senior interdisciplinary business major Harrison Kelly.
They presented their game, “Propose a Roast,” where players can customize cards to allow a diverse gameplay experience, while games such as “Cards Against Humanity” can become redundant after multiple plays, the students said.
Their game is also able to be played online and is used by video game live-streamers on Twitch to entertain and engage their audience. They said they would use the prize money to invest in Facebook ads. They exhibited the games endless fun in video clips of students enjoying the game.
“I feel great,” Shulman said. “I came up here to have fun and show a great card game. I think the audience was engaged. We had some fun, gave some T-shirts out. It was an overall fun, positive experience.”
Attending students were blown away by the business expertise exhibited at the competition.
“It’s awesome to think that at TCNJ, there’s students that have such well developed and, so far, such successful ideas,” said Joshua Grabenstein, a sophomore computer science major.
As the competition came to an end, the judges reached a final decision and offered their support to all of the teams.
“If we don’t choose you, prove us wrong,” Szabo said.
Coming in third place and winning $10,000 was Sixth Sense. Symbiotic Games came in second place at $20,000, while Code The Future finished in first place with the grand prize.
“It feels great that it came full circle,” Sleiman said. “Freshman year, we won third place and we kept going with it. It’s good to be rewarded for all our hard work. After this, we’re going to blast off.”