Abdullah Anderson '18 rose from his seat in Bucknell University's packed Terrace Room and ambled to the front of the room. The fourth annual BizPitch competition was in full swing, tension was high, and one of the six final teams had just done something unexpected.
Trey Johnson '18 and Kenny Griffin '18 were in the middle of pitching their product, Flip 'N Flate, a bright blue fluffy rug velcroed to a single-bed air mattress designed to be flipped over and inflated at a moment's notice. They had five minutes to impress five judges, all Bucknell graduates or parents, for a grand prize of $2,000. But Johnson had just called his football teammate forward to join them, eating up precious seconds of their allotted time and causing the audience to murmur in confusion.
Anderson, a defensive lineman, towered over them.
Johnson pointed to the inflated mattress on the floor and smiled.
"Try it out, Abdullah," he said.
Competition is fierce among entrepreneurial students who have nurtured ideas into fully formed ventures, then committed to vy for the chance to win essential seed money to start their businesses. Bucknell's BizPitch competition is fast establishing a tradition of students with big ideas and even bigger aspirations. One 2014 finalist earned a spot in Student Startup Madness, held at SXSW, and several other ventures from previous BizPitch competitions still work with Bucknell's Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
"This year's BizPitch was the first in which we saw multiple teams pitching fully developed products," said Steven Stumbris, director of the SBDC. "The fact that Flip 'N Flate has samples in the hands of users for testing, Uscape Apparel already has product sales and TouchBus has secured a contract with a bus company is an impressive leap forward not only for the student startups the SBDC serves, but for the maturity of the entrepreneurship ecosystem overall at Bucknell."
The six 2015 BizPitch finalists were selected from a field of 24 teams comprising 72 students in total, all competing for prize money and membership in StartupLewisburg, Bucknell's downtown home for innovators and entrepreneurs.
In addition to Flip 'N Flate, the finalists pitched products including glow-in-the-dark decorative wood pieces, an apparel company and three apps — one to make bus reservations, one to share clothes and another to organize pick-up sports.
"This was my first opportunity to experience BizPitch, and I was so impressed," said alumni judge Elizabeth Mascali '89, P'17, co-founder and CEO of Party Bluprints, Inc. "I hope I will continue hearing about the future of these young Bucknell entrepreneurs, because they're on the right path."
Pitching to win
In competitions like BizPitch, it's usually difficult to pinpoint the moment a team seals the deal. But for people in the Terrace Room watching events unfold, it was obvious what clinched victory for Flip 'N Flate.
At his friend's request, Anderson crouched down and stretched out on the Flip 'N Flate — all 6 feet, 4 inches and 295 lbs. of him.
"Comfortable?" asked Johnson.
"Yup," Anderson replied.
He stayed there, sprawled on a prototype, for the rest of the winning pitch.