Home ยป 'I was a ball of nerves the whole time': Washburn's pitch contest gives experience, starts businesses – The Topeka Capital-Journal

'I was a ball of nerves the whole time': Washburn's pitch contest gives experience, starts businesses – The Topeka Capital-Journal

by Arifa Rana

Washburn University student Peyton Price worked at a Kansas Department of Health and Environment call center over the summer making cold calls.
Price couldn’t wear a face mask because it muffled her voice and made it difficult to communicate with individuals while talking on the phone.
Price previously conceptualized a tool for football coaches called Call Guard, a connective device that uses sleeve-and-snap technology to attach to headsets and protect against airborne diseases.
“There was no market for that because there’s maybe three coaches on the field so who would buy it,” Price said.
When she realized the need for call center employees, she wondered if Call Guard could be a beneficial tool.
Her idea won her first place and $8,000 in Washburn’s annual business pitch competition.
This year’s business pitch competition was in October with funding handed out Oct. 19.
Price said her goal was to place in the top three of the business pitch competition. She was surprised to find out she placed first.
“I was a ball of nerves the whole time,” she said.
Price wasn’t the only winner. All five finalists walked away with money ranging from $1,000 to the top prize of $8,000. The money is funded by Go Topeka.
Abigail McCrory, a Washburn senior, won second place and $6,000 for her Top City Pet Pals pet-sitting business. This was her fourth year competing in the competition.
Jared Kerr, a junior at Washburn, pitched the idea for JKerr’s Detailing. He placed third and received $4,000.
Call Guard is still in the development stages, Price said.
Price said the device is attachable but future plans could allow for Call Guard to be built onto headsets.
Price plans to pursue a provisional patent for the device, which protects the idea for 12 months.
“I don’t want to get it too soon because I don’t want to just do nothing,” Price said. “Once you make a patent, it’s public knowledge.”
Price has already met with a local manufacturer to learn more about the process.
Feedback Price received during the competition was positive and allowed for her to discover new markets for the device.
“One of the judges is the owner of Chick-fil-A here in Topeka,” Price said. “He came up to me was like: ‘I have four employees outside that take orders for people. That would make my customers feel more comfortable. You should go get that patent.'”
One question Price gets asked is if the device will be applicable and sustainable post-COVID-19.
“Call Guard isn’t just for COVID-19,” Price said. “The emphasis is on it — and that’s how the idea came — but it’s for any airborne disease.”
McCrory, who is studying entrepreneurship, marketing and innovation with a minor in leadership, has competed in the business pitch competition since her freshman year. She has placed each year.
McCrory won the Top Freshman award, placed first her sophomore year and second place her junior and senior years.
McCrory’s pet-sitting business Top City Pet Pals was a side gig when she pitched the idea during the competition.
She first started pet-sitting for friends and family when she was in high school and has continued to do so through the years.
“I just started doing it for other families, and it caught on very quick,” McCrory said. “…All of a sudden I was booked. Now people are inquiring about weekends, and I’m having to turn them away.”
McCrory pitched the idea to expand Top City Pet Pals and hire more sitters who could assist with the workload.
On a national scale, McCrory’s biggest competition might be Rover, a pet-sitting app that allows pet owners to choose a pet-sitter to care for their animals.
“They provide a lot of great services and I like how you can see the different profiles of the people, but at the same time I feel like it feels pretty impersonal,” McCrory said. “The idea with Top City Pet Pals is to really be the go-to place in Topeka so you’re more familiar with our sitters and you can form that connection.”
Top City Pet Pals offers a variety of pet-sitting packages that can be customized to fit each pet owner’s needs.
Those interested in using Top City Pet Pals should email McCrory at abamccrory@gmail.com and put “Top City Pet Pals” in the subject line.
What McCrory might consider to be her most successful business pitch so far is Grounded on the Go, a coffee food truck concept she pitched in 2019, securing her first place and $8,000 in prize money.
McCrory has since been working to get the business off the ground and hopes to open the coffee truck in 2022. It will service the Greater Topeka area, McCrory said.
The food truck will be an extension of McCrory’s parents Rossville-based coffee shop Grounded.
Kerr, who is majoring in finance and management, has been detailing vehicles since he was about 14 years old.
Two years ago, he started operating his business under the LLC of JKerr’s Detailing, a mobile detailing shop.
So when the opportunity to participate in the pitch competition presented itself, Kerr decided to use his own business and expand upon on the idea.
“My idea was to franchise my business,” Kerr said.
Anyone interested in detailing cars could work with Kerr to franchise JKerr’s and teach them how to detail.
Kerr said his next steps are to speak with people who are familiar with business franchising and use the $4,000 to begin expanding the mobile detailing shop.
Those interested in using JKerr’s Detailing should reach out via the business’ Facebook page.
The business pitch competition is divided into three rounds — knockout, semi-finals and finals.
David Price, a Washburn marketing professor and organizer of the pitch competition, said this year had nearly 70 entries.
“It’s a good size, and we really can’t handle much more than that,” Price said.
A panel of judges select pitches based on innovation, business model, feasibility and presentation.
Entries are placed into four groups and during the knockout round, students have three minutes to pitch their idea without using technology.
“It’s really focused on the pitch that way and they don’t have that crutch of technology,” Price said.
The top three pitches in each group move onto the semi-finals with 12 students or teams remaining. The top five pitches are then moved to the final round.
The seven semi-finalists who don’t move to the final round get $100 each.
The finalists have two weeks to work on their final pitch in which they have seven minutes to present and are allowed to use technology. Each student or team is also assigned a mentor from Topeka’s business community.
“In these two weeks, they get a lot of information thrown at them and they learn a lot,” Price said.
Those who win money aren’t required to use the funds toward kickstarting or expanding their business.
For example, McCrory can put her money toward Grounded on the Go, her business pitch that secured her first place in 2019.
Price said her prize money will most likely go into savings and be used to help pay for the Call Guard patent.
Students don’t necessarily have to pursue their business idea to be considered a success in the eyes of the program.
“A lot of these students in the pitch competition go on to be entrepreneurial but maybe not pursue that idea,” Price said.
Topekan Connor England, who won in 2016, is an example of that.
“He’s doing things that are entrepreneurial and starting companies. It’s just not the one that he pitched in the competition,” Price said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. It doesn’t have to be that idea. It is learning the process and how it can be real if you work at it.”
Kerr, McCrory and Price encourage all students to take part in the business pitch competition.
 “I think it’s a great opportunity for students to get real world experience,” McCrory said. “It’s not every day you get to pitch in front of community members, business owners, potential investors.”
The competition also allows for students to understand more about the business process and build their confidence when pitching ideas.
“I just think it’s really cool for Washburn students to be able to show off how smart and creative we can be and also get rewarded with some money to either just help with bills or go ahead and move forward with our ideas,” Kerr said.
Price said it was a great learning experience for her.
“It’s a great opportunity for students to go through a business process and to fund their schooling,” Price said. “That’s where mine is going.”
Brianna Childers is the food and fun reporter for the Capital-Journal. Reach her at bchilders@cjonline.com. Follow her on Twitter @brichilders3.


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