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Startup Pitch Competition Focuses on Military Veterans

Monday, November 21, 2016

The winning team poses at the Innovation Pitch competitionThis past November, students from the University of Pittsburgh College of Business Administration participated in the Innovation Pitch Competition, where they sought to present business solutions to military veterans’ struggles with health and well-being, access to education, and unemployment.

Supported by the David Berg Center for Ethics and Leadership and the student social entrepreneurship organization Enactus, the competition was styled after a “hackathon,” which brings people together to bring great intensity toward solving a difficult problem.    

Many veterans have trouble transitioning from military back into society because there is often a disconnect and lack of awareness about the benefits available to veterans. Thus, the six teams of students set out to discover a way to fix this issue.

The competition began with a networking event, followed by an information session on veterans’ issues. The competition then began, and the teams split up and started brainstorming. Greg Coticchia, director of the Blast Furnace at the Pitt Innovation Institute, gave a presentation on how to give an effective pitch. This spurred, even more, brainstorming until it was time to present to the judges. 

The judges for this competition included Coticchia; Pitt Business Associate Dean Audrey J. Murrell; Mario Nicolia (BSBA ‘16), a financial analyst for UPMC and Enactus alum; and Nicole Muise-Kielkucki, director of social enterprise initiatives at Idea Foundry.

“It was exceptional to hear ideas from students who took their knowledge from the classroom and applied it to the city and the world. Their ideas were truly representative of the strong culture of innovation and entrepreneurship that exists at Pitt Business,” said Murrell, who also serves as director of the Berg Center.

The judges awarded the first-place prize of $500 and iPad minis to Pitt Business students Alex Thornton, Wes Lenhart, and Jeffery Wang. Their winning idea was EdforVets, a Web-based forum/platform that seeks to link veterans who have gone from their discharge to a college transition experience with other recently discharged veterans. Through this service, older veterans would be provided with an opportunity to serve others by creating content and passing their experiences on. Younger veterans, in turn, would receive help by providing resources and guidance. This platform would build personal connections between these two groups of veterans.
The second-place, $1,000 prize was awarded to Pitt Business students Bradley Smertz, Ari Yaron, Mike Yaron, and Hope Murray. Their idea was Battle Buddies Incorporated. This company focuses on the major issue of the service men and women departing the military who are not educated on the plethora of services and opportunities available to help advance their careers. The firm would set up stations and offices on and near military bases so that veterans would be aware of the services before discharge. If the veteran required additional education, the firm would offer free services to guide them through that process. And if the veteran was entering the workforce, the firm would set veterans up with a partner firm, expediting the hiring process. 

Finally, the third-place prize of $500 was awarded to Pitt Business students Marty Waters, Matty Houck, Liam McDonald, and Maddy McClure. Their idea was to create an application that would develop student veterans professionally as well as socially. On the professional side, the platform would connect veterans to resources within University of Pittsburgh's career development office as well as resources outside of the school, such as veteran job fairs. Also, the platform would display the available resources for mental readjustment to civilian life. In regards to the social aspect of the platform, it would have the capability to connect veteran students with each other, as well as connect ROTC students with veteran students. With this, veterans would be able to see other student veterans taking similar courses so they could establish a study group for that subject. 

After the competition, the winners were encouraged to continue with their projects. Some of the common issues for veterans may be addressed as a result of the Innovation Pitch Competition. 

Learn More

Enactus focuses on encouraging students to have a positive social impact through entrepreneurial projects. Each semester, Enactus hosts its Innovation Pitch Competition in which the participants are given a national problem.

For more information about the team at the University of Pittsburgh, please contact Enactus here