Seton Hall University’s ninth annual Pirates Pitch for High School Students competition, hosted by the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship of the Stillman School of Business on Nov. 17, had 10 talented student entrepreneur finalists, out of an international field of 170 contestants, face off with their startup concepts or fledgling businesses, in Jubilee Hall Auditorium on the South Orange campus.
The finalists were awarded $50,000 in cash and scholarships.
Kevin Zhang, a sophomore from Annandale, who attends North Hunterdon School, was awarded first place; Gauri Kshettry, a junior from Edison, attending Edison High School, came in second place; and Rafael Flores, a senior from Carlstadt, attending Don Bosco Preparatory High School, received the Audience Choice Award.
This tournament also celebrated Global Entrepreneurship Week activities taking place around the world from Nov. 13-19. The 10 future business leaders who had successfully submitted original business proposals describing an innovative product or service in 350 words or less, had competed against 170 young entrepreneurs from 18 U.S. states as well as Canada, Germany, Nigeria, India and Singapore, to qualify for more than $50,000 in prizes and tuition scholarships.
“This year’s competition showcased the work of a remarkable group of teen entrepreneurs. The finalists demonstrated creativity and innovation in their well-developed pitches. Their ideas were wide-ranging, and I was impressed that many of them focused on societal benefits,” Susan Scherreik, founding director of the Center of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the Stillman School of Business, said. “These included an app designed to provide fair pricing information to coffee bean farmers in Guatemala, an innovative recycling kiosk design for old cell phones and a chocolate brand that follows fair trade and ethical practices. Their achievements point up the popularity of entrepreneurship education courses, which are increasingly being taught in high schools and even middle schools.”
Scherreik shared that, adding to the vibrancy of the event were student volunteers from the Entrepreneurship Club executive board serving as emcees and volunteers. These students either have their own businesses or are working toward launching businesses. In addition, Seton Hall MBA student and entrepreneur RoseMary Stanchak, a 2018 winner, delivered remarks.
The 10 qualifying finalists will receive at least $4,000 in tuition scholarships to attend Seton Hall. Zhang received a $2,500 cash award and a $10,000 tuition scholarship. Kshettry received a $1,000 cash award and a $6,000 scholarship. Flores received $300 as well as a $4,000 tuition scholarship.
Zhang described his startup idea, Aetherstar, as an engaging online platform for high school students seeking opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities and find part-time jobs and internships. He noted that he only found out about the Pirates Pitch for High School Students competition by chance two weeks before the application deadlines, so he still had time to apply. That gave him the idea that high school students need a centralized forum to learn about academic competitions and other opportunities that they seek.
“The Pirates Pitch competition is a great learning experience. The competition taught me about identifying and addressing market needs with a solid business pitch. The judge panel asked challenging questions and gave insightful advice as to how to improve the business. It was an absolute honor to be chosen as this year’s winner,” Zhang said. “I would like to thank Professor Scherreik, the panelists, the student volunteers and Seton Hall University for holding such an enriching event. I would also like to thank my family, Mr. Tomson — my business club adviser who told me about this opportunity — and North Hunterdon High School for supporting me through this journey.”
Also praising the competition was Kshettry, who achieved second place.
She shared: “It was a great opportunity to be able to participate in the Seton Hall Pirates Challenge and win second place, because it helped build my confidence and practice pitching in front of an audience. My idea was TheraPose, an AI-driven physical therapy solution that uses pose estimation technology, providing personalized, real-time feedback during rehabilitation sessions to optimize patient form through advanced motion tracking and computer vision. I hope to be able to use my prize money of $1,000 to help start my business idea.”
The finalists conveyed their startup ideas in five-minute presentation followed by five minutes of questions from a prominent judging panel including Stillman business faculty and alumni entrepreneurs: Elizabeth McCrea, associate professor of management and entrepreneurship; Sunny Bathla, Class of 2000 and MBA 2015, senior vice president and chief growth officer, Sonata Software, and founder, OSB Co.; Alissa Lopez, MBA 2019, founder and CEO of the Family Balance Planner, product marketing manager, PulsePoint, and a first-place winner in the Seton Hall collegiate Pirates Pitch competition; and Victor Gomez, Class of 2017, manager of Seton Hall Esports, who has been instrumental in the founding, creation and growth of the University’s Gaming Sector club and the current esports program at Seton Hall.
“The passion and grit these young entrepreneurs share for solving important problems in the world, from the high costs of physical therapy to improving extracurricular access for students, was impressive. The resources that Seton Hall’s entrepreneurship center provides, from grants to mentorship, will help fuel that fire for years to come,” Lopez said.
Event finalists included:
- Matthew Choi, a senior from Fort Lee, attending Fort Lee High School. Startup Idea: Tech Cycle;
- Jonathan De Caro, a junior from Moodus, Connecticut, attending CREC Academy of Aerospace and Engineering. Startup Idea: Fair Price Information Network;
- Nicole Freiler, a senior from Park Ridge, attending Park Ridge High School. Startup Idea: Tidy Brush;
- Julia Livolsi, a senior from Glen Rock, attending Glen Rock High School. Startup Idea: Bliss Bars;
- Rachel Mokoko, a sophomore from Jersey City, attending McNair Academic High School. Startup Idea: MERCS;
- Kushagra Sadwal, a junior from Princeton Junction, attending West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South. Startup Idea: Mr. MD;
- Akshaya Venkatesh, a junior from Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, attending Downington STEM Academy. Startup Idea: Ethnic Clothing Tailoring.
The High School Pirates Pitch competition livestream can be watched here.