Panther Pitch Shines Spotlight on Entrepreneurship

A strategy to provide clean water for the Congo, imaginative recycling and gardening proposals, and an innovative “desk swop” concept were among the winning entries in this year’s recent Panther Pitch competition. Plymouth State’s version of the popular Shark Tank television series emphasizes the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship through a “big ideas” competition open to all students.

The competition is a premier project of the University’s chapter of Enactus, an international student organization committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need, and is also the culmination of months of planning by Professor Bonnie Bechard’s Event Marketing class. “The Panther Pitch is now in its sixth year and students really showed off their creativity in so many ways,” says Enactus President Noah Fiske ’21. “It also was a great opportunity to receive business guidance and network with top-level entrepreneurs.”

Student shares a memory of Howard Frederick

The 2021 Panther Pitch was dedicated to Professor Howard Frederick, who was a leader in entrepreneurship education before his untimely passing earlier this year. When discussing the field, Frederick said, “It is now expanding into arts, sciences, design, and most any subject, and it’s drawing on cross-disciplinary programs with diverse missions. Anyone with vision can launch a venture.”

“Professor Frederick’s vision is manifest here tonight,” said President Donald Birx in his welcome remarks. “We know that the Panther Pitch can truly open doors for young entrepreneurs and set them up for success.”

The first-place, Howard Frederick Entrepreneurship Award was renamed in Professor Frederick’s honor this year and was shared by Samy Tshileu ’21 and Carmela Olmo ’23. They each received $1,500 for their efforts.

Tshileu’s Clean Water for the Congo proposal is designed to bring fresh water to his rural African home village, where residents must currently travel a significant distance to access water from a compromised source. The two-part proposal includes the use of inexpensive sand filters to begin with while fundraising takes place to dig permanent deep wells.

Olmo’s Desk Swop envisions a free service that will improve the living conditions for off-campus students by more cost-effectively redistributing furnishings. The current local used furniture market would be better organized, improving the experience for both buyers and sellers by leveraging technology to provide more efficient market valuation and reduce waste.

Olmo’s Desk Swop and a Panther Bucks Recycling System proposal by Hannah Farley ’23, Lukas Holmqvist ’23, Tarryn O’Brien ’24, and Cooper Varano ’23 were tied for the Most Innovative and Creative Idea Award. Other award-winning proposals included Campus Edible U-Pick Garden by Dylan Perkins ’23 and a Student Veteran Support Online Resource Center by Dylan Freddo ’24, Jaycie Ingalls ’22, Alec Jordan ’22, Cameron Lent ’23, and Brandon Manna ’23.

The event featured accomplished speakers who shared their experiences and insights with a standing-room-only crowd of receptive students.

Presenters included:

  • Peter Bauer, CEO of Mimecast, a firm he co-founded in 2003 and which today employs almost 2,000 people, including PSU alumni, with offices in seven countries. Bauer is the visionary behind Mimecast’s product and SaaS platform strategy, which focuses on reducing risk and making e-mail safer for business.
  • Ryan Chadwick ’00, founder of Fathom Brands. His entrepreneurial portfolio includes innovating the housing and seafood markets, opening eclectic, successful restaurants, and operating a jazz club, among other ventures. PSU’s Ryan Chadwick Entrepreneurship Scholarship in Business is his enduring commitment to assist students in financial need.
  • Anthony Oglesby ’05, who has years of experience in developing, marketing, and managing operations of Planet Fitness health clubs, which he joined in its infancy and went on to develop the highly successful brand and model. He helped set up the Tap Out Fitness Franchise company, and then started the concept for All Out Fitness. He also contributes as a member of the PSU President’s Council,  a volunteer advisory group that provides leadership and support regarding development and fundraising.
  • Angela Watts ’05, whose firm Slyde Handboards was a big winner on the actual Shark Tank program. Her compelling presentation skills impressed the likes of Mark Cuban and Ashton Kutcher and secured major funding for her water sports firm.

The Panther Pitch is a key component of Plymouth’s State entrepreneurial ecosystem, along with Enactus, the University’s entrepreneurship courses for both business and non-business majors, ongoing curricular innovation, University makerspaces, and networking events. Plymouth State is unquestionably an energetic launchpad for the next generation of change agents.

“I am very proud of our students and so grateful to all our alumni, sponsors, partners, judges, and mentors who make this event possible,” says Professor Bonnie Bechard. “The Panther Pitch is building future leaders in innovation and entrepreneurship, and I can’t wait to see the impact our students will have on the community and organizations they go on to work for in the future.”