4/6/16 | Now in its fifth year, JWU Providence’s annual Sharkfest competition tests the business acumen, creativity and ambition of student entrepreneurs from a broad spectrum of majors.
Sharkfest 2016 brought a new level of focus and polish. Each of the 7 teams was given only two minutes to pitch their concept — and only 4 in which to answer the judges’ questions. The pressure was on — who would prevail?
2016’s Winning Pitches
This year’s pitches spanned a broad spectrum, from useful apps — like Aroma, a recipe matching engine, and ServUS, to streamline customer turnover times in busy restaurants — to useful gadgets, like Flip, a smart light switch, or the Bag Buddy, a high-efficiency trash bag dispenser.
First place — and $5000 in seed money — went to North Miami freshman Thiago Rodrigues. His big idea? Students Store It will pick up and store students’ belongings for a summer or even an entire term — eliminating the need to lug everything back home.
Providence graphic design major Erin Tucci secured second place ($2500) with her Aroma app. In addition to helping users make better use of what’s in their fridge or pantry, she hopes Aroma will contribute to a reduction in the more than 60 million metric tons of food waste in the US each year.
Third place ($1000) went to Matthew Vidovich’s ServUS, which is designed to maximize restaurant efficiency while minimizing wait times — “revolutionizing the food service industry.”
Catching Up with What’s Good
Before the day’s winners were announced, John Robitaille, executive in residence at JWU’s Larry Friedman International Center for Entrepreneurship (eCenter), caught up with Matt Tortora '15, last year’s Sharkfest runner-up. His company, What’s Good, is a customized online network focused on streamlining food sourcing.
Tortora spoke candidly of the joys and challenges of running a startup: “Every day is the best and worst day of your life as a company.”
While daily ups and downs are inevitable, he emphasized the importance of staying focused on your big goals: “We’re looking to repair a food system issue and make a change,” he told Robitaille. “Getting local food [on plates] is important.”
The company is certainly making strides, with a rapidly growing network of purveyors in 15 states, and a startup team that includes 6 JWU alumni.
Tortora concluded with another crucial lesson in entrepreneurship: “Being the smartest person in the room and being a good leader aren’t always the same.”
What’s Next for the Winners?
In addition to seed funds, the 2016 finalists will be able to “incubate” their ventures at the eCenter, which includes use of office space and mentorship from eCenter staff and visiting industry professionals.
Read all about this year’s finalists.
Follow the eCenter on Twitter.
PHOTOS FROM THE 2016 SHARKFEST ENTREPRENEURSHIP COMPETITION AT JWU PROVIDENCE. ALL PHOTOS: MIKE COHEA