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April 4, 2024

First WooTank Intercollegiate pitch competition leads to $14.5K in funding for student-founded startups

A man in a suit stands in front of an audience with a brick wall and screen behind him Photo | Eric Casey Worcester Bravehearts General Manager Dave Peterson welcomes the audience to the first ever WooTank Intercollegiate Showdown.

Just as the NCAA March Madness basketball tournaments are nearing their conclusion, an intercollegiate competition of a different kind took place on Tuesday, as The Venture Forum held its first-ever WooTank Intercollegiate Showdown at the JMAC BrickBox Theater in downtown Worcester.  

Inspired by the hit ABC television show “Shark Tank”, the competition had collegiate entrepreneurs make a pitch for their businesses in front of a live studio audience, with the hope of convincing three experienced business leaders to supply them with funds to help take their ideas to the next level.

The three shark investors who participated in the event were Mark Wingertzahn, a drug development executive with more than 25 years of experience in the pharma and biotech industries, Margaret McEvoy-Ball, a Worcester native and retired technology executive, and Brian Geisel, the CEO and founder of Worcester-based Geisel Software.

The event was hosted by Dave Peterson, the general manager of the Worcester Bravehearts Futures Collegiate Baseball League team.

A wide-angle photo of a crowd of people seated in a theater.
Photo | Eric Casey
The WooTank Intercollegiate pitch competition was hosted by Worcester-based not-for-profit The Venture Forum and held at the JMAC BrickBox Theater in downtown Worcester.

The pitch competition resulted in a total of $14,500 in funding for eight student-founded businesses, representing four Central Massachusetts universities:

  • Pablo Arnau Beltrán (Nichols College in Dudley): The founder of MyBarks, a shoe company using rubber infused with scents meant to remind consumers of the smells of the Mediterranean. Beltrán received $3,000.
  • TJ Haigh (The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester): The CEO and co-founder of Trivflic, an app which sends users three daily trivia questions with an aim of creating a gamified social media experience for users. Haigh received $2,000 and an offer of mentorship from the sharks. 
  • Sophie Lee (Clark University in Worcester): The founder of Sophpremacy, a jewelry company specializing in handmade and custom gothic-inspired pieces. Lee received $3,500.
  • Kemal Rifky (Worcester Polytechnic Institute): The executive director and founder of 360energy, a company seeking to help Indonesian fish farmers utilize small-scale hydropower to help maximize their yields and minimize environmental impacts. Rifky did not receive any funds from the sharks, but they offered mentoring support with the promise of future consideration of financial support. 
  • Logan Mott (Holy Cross) and Skyler Mott (Lehigh University in Pennsylvania): Two brothers who are the founders of Mark-It, a company creating customizable plastic markers designed to replace the conventional tape used by high-jump and long-jump athletes to mark their approach. The Motts received $1,500.
  • Owen Chase (Clark University): The founder of Just For Fun Farms, a Worcester-based business using urban farming to produce a variety of microgreens sold to local restaurants and consumers. Chase received $3,000.
  • Nick Gronda (WPI): The CEO of CROI, an online platform seeking to leverage data to help high school students determine which college is the best financial and academic fit for them. Gronda received $1,500.
  • John Pollock (Nichols College): The founder of Real Estate Investment Bot, a tool designed to help real estate investors find potential properties to buy. Pollock did not receive any funds, but he did receive an offer of mentorship from the sharks. 

WooTank was one of several events that The Venture Forum has planned for 2024. The Worcester-based not-for-profit was founded in 1991, with the intention of turning the city into a globally competitive startup hub. 

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