A Pitch From the Heart: Student Entrepreneurs Compete For Funding

College freshman Kevin Kirk started selling accessories at dozens of local and regional girls' sporting events in 2005 when he was 16 years old. He now stands before a panel of multimillionaire businessmen explaining how he plans to expand his business, A Slice of Paradise, to mall kiosks throughout the United States.

Not only is he the youngest presenter, he's also the first. As he stands before his projected presentation, maybe he's talking a little too fast, but he's definitely talking from the heart. That is what makes him a winner at Cupid's Cup, where student entrepreneurs pitch their business plans in an effort to secure some of the $22,500 in prize money for the best student start-ups. Kirk wins a People's Choice Award. It's not a surprise -- how could anyone not love this guy?

Kirk's competitors are other student-run start-ups including an Internet service provider, a tech firm hosting online auctions for charities and non-profits, a print magazine written by and for college students and a Web site developer that has a nifty search engine optimization technology.

The first place winner ultimately is Anaptyx, the ISP that offers wireless broadband Internet networks to apartment and condominium communities as an alternative to the dominant Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon Communications. It will take $15,000 back to the office.

The event takes place late Friday afternoon on a beautiful day replete with sunny, blue skies at the University of Maryland's College Park campus -- most students are packing up for the weekend, but the business school's entrepreneurship center is packing them in.

Students, parents, executives and academics have filed past hundreds of silver and red heart-shaped Mylar balloons to the third annual entrepreneurial competition that this year is judged by seasoned business executives including Kevin Plank, the chairman and CEO of Under Armour and a 1996 Maryland graduate, along with Mark Walsh, CEO of Genius Rocket, and Seth Goldman, co-founder and TeaEO of Honest Tea, among others.

Before the main event, accomplished entrepreneurs mingle with aspiring business owners in the school's main atrium. The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship is hosting a trade show to showcase student businesses and portfolio firms, which are established small firms whom the center helps with growth and development. The hallway is full of booths from firms like Mom Made Foods and Crooked Monkey, a student business that sells vintage-inspired clothing to the collegiate market. Although it's only three years old, its wares are sold by more than 500 retailers including Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom's. It's around the corner from C-MART, a portfolio firm that offers discounted high-end clothing and furniture, and down the hallway from WiCult, a tech firm that offers social networking services to GPS-enabled cell phones.

After the presenters are finished but before the winners are announced, the very affable Plank gives the keynote address. Much of his talk boils down to what he says will be the title of his book someday: "We Were Smart Enough to be Naïve Enough to Not Know What We Could Not Accomplish."

By Sharon McLoone |  April 15, 2008; 12:12 PM ET Profiles in Entrepreneurship
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

I loved the article and appreciate the link to the website! Thanks!

Posted by: Kevin Kirk | April 15, 2008 1:52 PM

I read "Microserfs" many years ago and love reading articles about these types of competitions - kudos to the participants.

Posted by: Neat Story | April 15, 2008 2:30 PM

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