ASU's Launch Days allow students to pitch business ideas to leaders in the field
"Just Start," ASU Launch Days motto, gets students comfortable pitching ideas
ASU students' entrepreneurial ideas offer a diverse array at Launch Days
October 6, 2015

It’s a problem we can all relate to.

“Imagine a day where you have to shuttle between meetings and after every meeting, you have to come back into a heated car which will bake you like a cookie,” said Sneha Shenoy.

And the Arizona State University student has a potential remedy we can all appreciate.

“Our solution is a sleek, simple and easy-to-install cooling pad which will keep your car cool when it’s parked,” said Shenoy, who invented the yoga-mat-type device with her fellow student, Subbarao Raikar. They are graduate students studying materials engineering.

Confident and enthusiastic, Shenoy described her product at the front of a lecture hall filled with people, including those who wondered why this cooling pad should replace the sun screens seen in so many Arizona car windows.

“Why you would buy our product is that the covering you’re using now is just delaying the time of heating. It’s not cooling your car. We do that for you,” Shenoy said.

She was among a dozen students who practiced selling their ideas during Launch Days Open Pitch, an event on the Tempe campus sponsored by ASU’s Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Launch Days is meant to encourage students to drop their fears and inhibitions about their entrepreneurial projects and “just start” – the event’s motto. Three more Launch Days will be held at ASU’s other campuses this month, including Thursday at the West Campus, with Open Pitch beginning at 5 p.m.

“Our vision is that entrepreneurship is as much a skill set and a way of thinking as a vocation,” said Garrett Westlake, associate dean of student entrepreneurship. “Students tend to shy away from the word ‘entrepreneur,’ but when you talk to them, they’re all working on something that they’re excited about, like an idea for a community-service project.”

A photo of Garrett Westlake, associate dean of student entrepreneurship

Garrett Westlake, associate dean of student entrepreneurship (right) along with faculty associate Erika Feinberg, gives immediate feedback and encouragement to speakers at Open Pitch. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Launch Days begin with outreach to students about all the ways they can see their ideas come to life. Tables are set up around campus and volunteers gave out T-shirts and notebooks with the motto “Just Start.”

For Open Pitch, students create two-minute “elevator pitches” that describe their ideas and drum up enthusiasm. They are expected to explain their target markets, how they would get their ideas off the ground and how they would make money.

During last week’s session, they pitched to each other and to faculty members, who asked questions and gave feedback.

Most of the ideas were mobile applications or software designs, but a few were services and products – like a cooling insert for backpacks to stop “back sweat” and a wipeable tablet to decrease paper consumption.

Some ideas were ambitious, such as software to replace the search-engine optimization dominated by Google.

Others were very specific, hoping to hit that sweet spot in the zeitgeist that would launch them into the realm of startup success stories like Facebook or Twitter.

Freshman Scott Fitsimones pitched “Drop Spot,” a social-media app that would allow users to “pin” a location and see which of their friends had been there previously. It’s sort of like leaving a note in someone’s locker that he can see only when he opens the locker.

“It has the power to bring people closer together,” Fitsimones said.

The app would generate revenue through advertising.

“I’m curious about this as a meaningful tool,” said Erika Feinberg, a faculty associate and entrepreneurship mentor, who was encouraging, yet realistic in her feedback to all the students.

“Be very clear about your target audience and make sure they have money,” she told another, whose proposal depended on students spending money.

ASU student Scott Fitsimones demonstrates his program, Drop Spot.

Scott Fitsimones demonstrates his program, Drop Spot, during his two-minute presentation at the Open Pitch event. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Westlake encouraged Alfonso Gutierrez to apply for a grant to fund his idea, Upper Echelon Empire, a community-service program for skateboarders.

Gutierrez’s project would allow young people to volunteer at a hospital and earn points that would allow them to buy skateboarding gear.

“A lot of times these kids don’t know anybody but their peers. It would great if they could meet some doctors,” Gutierrez said.

He compared his project to Tom’s, the business that operates on a one-for-one model of social responsibility – giving a pair of shoes to a poor child for every pair sold.

The first Launch Day Open Pitch, held last spring, drew more than 120 students across the four campuses. Westlake said that event was a competition, and the winner didn’t even decide to participate until minutes before it started. This year’s event was for feedback only.

He said that about a quarter of the students at the first Open Pitch followed up with some other type of engagement, such as applying for the Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative, the Clinton Global Initiative or the Innovation Challenge.

Some of the students who presented last week have already done a lot of work, securing provisional patents and setting up companies.

For instance, Fitsimones said he is in a bidding war to acquire a website domain name for his Drop Spot app.

Others have already succeeded and failed at businesses. James Flores, who pitched a device-repair subscription service, had co-founded two previous businesses. He sold one and closed the other.

“There’s an epidemic of broken phones,” he said while strolling across the stage, holding up his phone to the audience and revealing a cracked screen.

“See, my phone is broken too.”

Another problem we can all relate to.

The next Launch Days are Thursday, Oct. 8, on the West Campus; Thursday, Oct. 15, on the Polytechnic Campus, and Thursday, Oct. 22, at the Downtown Phoenix Campus. All of the Open Pitches run from 5 to 6:30 p.m. For Open Pitch room locations, visit https://entrepreneurship.asu.edu/launchday.

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now

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