The co-founders of OnMyBlock.com pitched their idea to angel investors in the second annual Venture Vetting (V2) Competition and earned $10,000, the largest amount awarded from the $25,000 available prize money, on Thursday night in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theater.
“Pure excitement, shock and inspiration for Jordan and I, said Schwanke, an Interdisciplinary Humanities major and USD’s Associated Students president, about the win. “Jordan and I are roommates and we’re always talking about On My Block at school and when we’re at home. Winning this means so much to us.”
The joy on Schwanke and Jadallah’s faces when one of the four angel investor panelists, USD alumnus Jason Friend, revealed On My Block as the winner was certainly something special.
“The whole panel agreed that you guys provide a great solution to a problem, one that needs a national platform, and that’s searching for college housing,” said Friend ‘98, founder of the mortgage banking group, Peoples Bank. Fellow panelists were USD alumni Anita Mahaffey ’80 (founder of Cool-jams) and Navid Alipour ‘03 (La Costa Investment Group) and longtime USD entrepreneur programs supporter Andy Laats, co-founder and president of Nixon Watches.
“We weren’t sure what to expect coming into (V2), but we’re very happy that the angel investors really believed in us; they showed it, too, by giving us the top prize,” said Jadallah, an economics major. “We started this business idea because we were passionate about helping college students find a place to live off-campus. It’s a painful process. We’ve not paid ourselves the last two years, but what we’ve done is work on it continuously. We love it. It’s a fun feeling to work on it every day and enjoy what we’re doing.”
The passion was evident for all four finalists, each of whom gave a seven-minute presentation of their business idea to the panel and in front of a big audience in the IPJ Theater. At the end of the night, all four finalists had some money to help their respective projects’ progress.
Eco-Clinix, a public health group and environmentally disciplined medical device start-up that includes Hue Huynh (pictured, right, third from left), a graduate student in the School of Leadership and Education Sciences’ Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, on its team, earned $8,000. Marcel Benz, a current MBA student, earned $6,000 to put into A2Med, a medical company that specializes in advanced analytical equipment for anesthetic agent monitoring, specifically, a diagnostic device to support the administration of Propofol. Miguel Ceja, a USD foreign exchange college student from Mexico this semester who attends Tec de Monterrey, earned $1,000 for Supplements Box, a one-stop service for customers’ nutritional supplement ordering needs.
V2’s $25,000 total prize pool amount — graciously donated by Andy and Liz Laats, Thomas Cole and alumni KC and Kelly Gallagher, Lorenzo Fertitta and Tom Breitling — was up from last year’s $15,000. Having more funding available for start-up ventures in this competition, which was started last spring by USD Entrepreneurship Professor Mike Lawless, was one of many new aspects of the 2013 V2 presentation.
This year’s V2 event attracted 32 entrepreneurial undergraduate and graduate student-run or student-affiliated business idea entries, nearly double the number (18) it had received in its inaugural year. Breitling (pictured, left), a successful entrepreneur, gave a keynote speech that included talk about his newest venture, Ultimate Gaming, and essential elements for all entrepreneurs to consider when creating a business. Breitling was also one of many who took some time to check out a few of the USD students who were pitching their own products and ideas in the IPJ Garden of the Sky area.
One of the student businesses, Pixster, a photo booth company led by current MBA student McLain Harvey (pictured, right), earned the inaugural V2 Crowd Prize by Deipi.com’s Sales and Marketing Director Tayde Aburto for having the highest online vote total (299) on V2’s website, www.usdentrepreneurship.com
Other student-run businesses present at the pre-event reception included Bon Affair, a wine spritzer company founded by MBA student Jayla Siciliano (pictured, below left) and was featured recently in The New York Times; Alma at Solana, a healthy and peace-oriented business idea by SOLES Leadership graduate student Cindy Cordova; Leaders of Tomorrow, a passionate business put together by undergraduates Leonice Brown Jr., Olivia Glazner and Max Masters seeking to empower students to become leaders; Stylifi, an online company led by undergraduate international business student Alexander Gallagher that’s devoted to a personally customized shopping experience; and Undercover Mugs, a business start-up by sophomore Christian Martin with fun messaging on the bottom of coffee mugs.
Schwanke and Jadallah indicated they’d be using their prize money to enhance their website and to add team members to grow a little quicker, but what was most evident Thursday was the continuing rise of an entrepreneurial spirit on the USD campus.
“The biggest thing I’d tell students who have a business idea in mind is to just do it,” Jadallah said. “What people don’t realize is there’s nothing holding them back. What’s great about the partnership that Morgan and I have is that we set no limits for each other and for ourselves. We wanted to go for it and make it happen.”
— Ryan T. Blystone