SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Ten talented student entrepreneur finalists with start-up concepts or fledgling businesses, out of an international field of more than 200 contestants, faced off on Nov. 22 in High School Pirates Pitch, a “Shark Tank”-style competition sponsored by the Stillman School of Business and its Center for Entrepreneurial Studies of Seton Hall University. Students competed for $50,000 in cash and scholarships. Ian Aepelbacher, an Elmira, N.Y., senior attending Horsehead High School was awarded first place for Sweet Cleats, and Mamaie “Adjo” Evonlah, a Germantown, Pa., senior attending Northwest High School, came in second place, pitching Jojo’s Outstanding Jojoba Oil.
Finalist prizes included Seton Hall University scholarships; the first-place winner also received a $2,500 cash prize and the second-place winner received a $1,000 cash prize. Three honorable mentions received gift certificates. Following the competition, a reception was held in the finalists’ honor, enabling them to meet with university officials and have the opportunity to network and receive valuable advice for their start-ups from the judges, who are corporate executives and successful entrepreneurs.
Aepelbacher, who is interested in pursuing a degree in engineering, joined the competition as part of a school project. He enjoyed the opportunity to practice public speaking and shared that he would enjoy extending his winning concept to the professional sports industry.
“This was a great experience. I am really proud that my work paid off. All the pitches were great,” Aepelbacher said.
The 10 high school “sharks” presented five-minute pitches, followed by five minutes of questions from the independent judge panel, which comprised alumni and entrepreneurs. The competition judges included Beatriz Manetta, founder, president and CEO of Argent Associates and Asociar LLC; Gary Wolfe, founder, CEO and former owner of Wolfe Roofing and Sheet Metal Inc.; Darrell Gunter, president and CEO of Gunter Media Group, and university adjunct professor; Sunny Bathla, founder of OSB Consulting and vice president of Virtusa Corporation; and Patrick Burd, founder of Classic Soccer Cleats.
“At Seton Hall, we’re ahead of the curve in setting the standard to help the next generation of entrepreneurs be able to apply themselves and become winners. It’s important for them to start early and learn how to do pitches because more and more of these kids are starting to become entrepreneurs. They need funding and the best way to get funding is you have to be really good at a pitch. That is key for them,” said Manetta, herself a Seton Hall University Entrepreneur Hall of Fame inductee in 2015.
In addition to Aepelbacher and Evonlah, finalists included: honorable mention winner Alessandra Antonacci, a Staten Island senior at Fontbonne Hall Academy pitching The Acupressure Socks; honorable mention winner Jessica Huang, a Morris Plains junior from Parsippany Troy Hills High School pitching her Fahrenheit Sensor car safety seat alert; honorable mention winner Mia Masturzo, a Mills Valley, Calif., sophomore from Marin Catholic High School pitching Mia.paintss on Instagram; Spencer Ghiraldini, a Park Ridge senior at Park Ridge High School pitching Fan View virtual reality headset; Atishay Jain, a Downingtown, Pa., junior at Downingtown STEM Academy pitching Edu-Nav; Rushikesh Manche, a Bridgewater senior from Bridgewater-Raritan High School pitching 16stepstoa1600 tutoring system; Carter Slifer, a Scotch Plains senior at Fanwood High School pitching fortniteclips, his gaming sector strategy business; and Aiyana Williams, a Plainfield senior at Union Catholic High School pitching Spice Tower, her specialized digital spice rack.