The 2013 SmartPitch Challenge commenced with a room full of budding New York City entrepreneurs on Friday, February 1st. Over 100 students filled the 14th-floor auditorium in Baruch College’s Newman Vertical Campus for the event, which included a discussion by a panel of experts on how to successfully launch a business through the competition. After screening a promotional video, Dr. Stuart Schulman, the founder and director of CUNY IVE, welcomed the audience of students, mentors, and entrepreneurs. After announcing 2013 as the 11th iteration of the SmartPitch Competition, he explained, “Starting a business is really the equivalent to raising a child; it takes a community”.
The event received widespread support from the Baruch community, including from Dean Myung-Soo Lee, who spoke about the importance of SmartPitch and student entrepreneurship. Dr. Ed Rogoff, the Chair of Baruch’s Management Department, highlighted Baruch College as the leading institution for entrepreneurship, and SmartPitch as the leading competition fostering student engagement in this area. He explained to the student participants, “You’re joining a program where everyone is a winner.” Dr. Christoph Winkler, the associate director of CUNY IVE, stated that events like SmartPitch, as well as the successful co-working sessions held at the Lawrence N. Field Center every Friday, are a testament to Baruch’s unique entrepreneurial community.
As the keynote speaker, Ron Williams, the CEO and co-founder of Knod.es, gave a thought-provoking presentation, "The Digital 1%, Digital Despots Driving Design?". He advised that entrepreneurial students should focus on knowing their customer or user, by “[getting] out of the building and [getting] feedback to validate what you are doing.”
With founding consultant of beta&pivot marketing Karen-Michelle Mirko moderating, the panel held a lively discussion about startup trends and how students can use the SmartPitch Challenge to become successful entrepreneurs. Panelists included Rolando Franco, an executive IT architect at IBM; Alon Hillel-Tuch, the CFO & co-founder of RocketHub; Tuan Pham, director at Silicon Valley Bank; and Marisol del Valle, founder of iocama.com. Alon discussed the benefits of crowdfunding and described how the SmartPitch competition can provide a great launching pad for businesses that requires few resources. Tuan described how SVB has its pulse on the barometer for the innovation economy by funding startups in the technology sector. Rolando emphasized IBM’s continued support for student entrepreneurship. He said, “Entrepreneurship is not a skill per se, it’s a mindset… and that’s the seed we want to plant here with SmartPitch.” Marisol highlighted the importance of mentors and told students to view the competition as a learning environment: “IVE is a safe place to ask the silly questions.” The engaging dialogue from the panelists energized the room and left students inspired and motivated for the challenge ahead.
As the event came to a close, Arber Ruci, the founder of >inyourclass.com and a CCNY graduate and former SmartPitch participant, testified to the personal benefits he received from the program. Dr. Winkler explained the SmartPitch process, including the three milestones and mentorship. Anelisa Lauri, the community manager of CUNY IVE, directed students to take the next step in participation by joining and engaging with IVE’s social networking site, cunyive.ning.com, and recognized the efforts of everyone who contributed to the successful SmartPitch kickoff event.
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