Student entrepreneurs to pitch ideas at Judson U. 'Shark Tank' event

Judson University kicks off its second "Shark Tank" entrepreneurial competition, with up to $2,000 in potential prize money, this fall.

Inspired by ABC Network's popular reality business pitch series, "Shark Tank," Judson's event seeks to encourage young entrepreneurs with startup ideas to pitch them in three minutes or less.

Thirteen contenders have submitted ideas for this fall's competition, of which five finalists will pitch their ideas Nov. 19 before an audience and a panel of judges comprising experienced entrepreneurs from for-profit and nonprofit sectors. The panel will determine a winner.

The grand prize remains $1,000, with $500 and $250 prizes for second and third place, respectively.

Judson alumnus George Heller and his Phoenix FireStrike Industries team won the inaugural Judson "Shark Tank" competition last April, taking home the $1,000 grand prize for their automated home fire suppressant system.

"This event was a great networking opportunity to meet fellow business owners and led to a personal invitation to present at Elgin Community College Sustainability Makes Faire," Heller wrote in his company newsletter.

Phoenix FireStrike Industries has since presented its patent-pending idea at the National Fire Protection Association conference and expo and giving an elevator pitch at the annual Tech Cocktail Event and Mixer in downtown Chicago. "Since these events we have been in contact with multiple companies about potential business agreements," Heller wrote.

Another Judson student, Briana Williams of Plainfield, who pitched an idea for a store offering only fair-trade goods received a private donation after the April competition. The university now is partnering with Williams to open such a store on campus, said Michelle Kilbourne, chair of business and leadership within the School of Business and Professional Studies.

The store will debut Nov. 21 on a pilot basis for the holiday season on the first floor of Linder Tower, Kilbourne added.

"To see so much success from our first event in the spring was rewarding, but the interest we are generating for this November has already generated a buzz around campus - and that's exciting to see," said Judson Business Society member Ethan Adams, whose CREATE 2015 initiative spawned the Judson "Shark Tank" concept.

At 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, "Shark Tank" competitors will attend a workshop presented by Katie Sowa of Future Founders to learn how to pitch their ideas at the Eagle Lounge. Contenders then will present their pitches from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thursday to Judson faculty, staff members and students in an open forum at the Linder Campus Upper Commons. Ideas getting the most votes will go into the final round Nov. 19.

All finalists will receive one-on-one coaching by business professionals before competition night, Kilbourne said.

The competition has spurred a dialogue between Judson and the Fox Valley business community about fostering a culture of creating new ideas.

"There's a network of individuals from the Fox Valley that want to partner with the university to grow a program," Kilbourne said. "In spring, it is my hope to be able to offer select students an in-residence course credit that helps them develop the idea and (themselves) into an entrepreneur."

The Nov. 19 competition finale is 7 to 9 p.m. in the Thulin Performance Hall on Judson's Elgin campus, 1151 N. State St.

All "Shark Tank" pitch events are free and open to the public. For more information about CREATE 2015 or to become a Judson "Shark Tank" sponsor, visit

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