The theme from Jaws echoed in the halls of Olin Hall as students and their families waited for Walla Walla's version of TV pitch show Shark Tank to begin.
In celebration of Global Entrepreneurship Week, the Walla Walla community came together to create a competition for aspiring entrepreneurs called Pitch It! Every county in the state of Washington had a program for GEW this year, a source of great pride for Maury Forman from the Washington state Department of Commerce.
"Global Entrepreneurship Week gives an idea of what it means to be an entrepreneur," Forman said. "Being an entrepreneur is not about the money or the swimming pools - it's about new ideas that make communities better."
The Pitch It! competition evolved out of last year's event, a business plan contest. That contest excluded some participants who did not have business experience. This year, Whitman wanted to offer a more inclusive option.
"We liked the idea of something that many students could access," said Kim Rolfe, Whitman's director of business engagement. "Last year's was a business plan, so you had to have a pretty solid understanding of business principles to put that together."
Instead they sought to create a Walla Walla version of the television show Shark Tank, where students pitch an idea rather than a fully-fledged business plan.
The first rounds of the competition started at each individual college or high school, and the winners went on to the finals on Nov. 18, where a $500 prize was on offer for the best entrepreneurial endeavor.
The competitors had two minutes to present their idea to the judges - local Walla Walla business owners, managers or investors - followed by a five-minute Q&A session where judges quizzed them on their idea.
Each of the three colleges in Walla Walla as well as the two high schools had a representative in the final five. Whitman's John Lee '16 (pictured right), the winner of last year's entrepreneurship competition presented his idea regarding the concept of an "Interactive Micro-Advertising Platform" - one of the primary ways Lee envisions his charitable social network, Letsvid will generate revenue and be sustainable in the long run. "The platform is essentially a way for people to receive discounts through coupon-like advertisements via QR (quick response) codes. By having them scanned in return for the discount, the advertising company would know without a doubt that their advertising with Letsvid worked. A percentage of the customer's purchase would be paid to Letsvid which would then redistribute it to local charitable causes and organizations."
Lee won the Whitman portion of the Pitch It! competition, and his prize is a chance to have lunch with Scott Alderman '90 partner at Bellevue, Washington, investment firm Trilogy Equity Partners. Alderman could give Lee advice on how to improve his business idea.
Lee says that he looks forward to the invaluable opportunity of meeting with Mr. Alderman and being able to continue working on developing a charitable social network.
College Place High School student Jake Morris presented on the business he is currently running from his house, BAM Wood Products, which produces high quality cutting boards.
Two Walla Walla High School students, Jennifer Cho and Madyson Gabriel (pictured above), won the competition. They plan to start a gourmet food delivery service called Gourmet to Go, a way for busy families to get restaurant-style food delivered to their home.
"I was ecstatic that our hard work paid off," Cho said. "We both are going into fields where we will be exposed to business so it was an invaluable experience for us."
They will start making their dream a reality in the near future with $500 in their pockets.