Chris Warner makes pancakes for his grandfather each Saturday morning. Sometimes, as he races to his Entrepreneurship class at Gateway Community College (GCC), having skipped breakfast, he wishes he’d had those pancakes. The hunger pangs led to an idea for a business - Pancake Power – a food cart that sells pancakes and coffee to the 25,000 students, doctors and business professionals who live, work and study in downtown New Haven. On November 28, Chris won the “Elevator Pitch” competition among Entrepreneurship students from GCC and Housatonic Community College. Before a panel of judges and a packed room at Housatonic Community College, Warner made his 60-second pitch and took home a $400 first prize.
Warner was one of 14 Gateway students entered in the competition from the Entrepreneurship course taught by Rose Bednarz-Luglio, GCC professor of Business and Program Coordinator of Entrepreneurial Studies, and Mike Roer, a GCC instructor of Entrepreneurship. GCC student Tishema Burrell-Robinson placed second.
“It was just terrific to have 14 business students from Gateway travel to Housatonic Community College to pitch their businesses they developed in the Entrepreneurship classes. These students are serious, motivated and professional,” Luglio said. “We are so proud that they made the effort and took advantage of an opportunity to reach for their dream. The experience resulted in our students developing more self-confidence, communicating to business professionals in a clear and concise manner, and networking with other students and business professionals.”
Each student had one minute to sell a business concept to a panel of three judges, business persons and entrepreneurs from Fairfield County. They were judged on product service, how they’d fare against their competition, their target marketing, management, finances and funding.
The contest was held near the end of the semester but the seeds for the idea are planted the very first week of class. Students must come up with an idea for a business and during the semester they conduct a feasibility study, identify a target audience, validate and pitch the business. Pitching an idea is an essential and applicable skill, Luglio said. Holly Hermes, a student in the Entrepreneurship class, said they are asked to imagine they are in an elevator with a venture capitalist, going down to the lobby from the 25th floor. “Can you sell the idea by the time the elevator door opens?” she asked.
Luglio said the students received tremendous support from each other, from the GCC business faculty, their friends and family as they tried out their pitches. In fact, GCC student Melissa Montosa’s employers not only listened to her idea, they had her practice in an actual elevator at work to get her pitch ready for the competition!
In Entrepreneurship class the morning after the competition, the students shared their experiences. “Clarity is most important,” said Sirah Beal, who pitched her business idea, Sirah’s Artsy T-Shirts. “You have to be very clear.”
Warner’s two tips? “Be creative and concise.”
While Warner won, the judges did have a question for him: How did he plan to serve his product? Taking pancakes on the run can be a tricky premise. The class, known for its collaborative spirit, according to Luglio, immediately offered him ideas. Sell pancakes in different sizes: silver dollar-sized in a cup. “With syrup drizzled on top,” added Alia Lumpkin. They encouraged him to also sell the kind he envisioned: the large, fluffy, delicious variety on a plate wrapped tightly in foil, to take to the office.
Warner said he was very happy that the judges saw the need for a pancake cart in and among the many hot dog and burrito carts on the streets of New Haven.
“Winning first place – it made me speechless,” he said. But he wasn’t for long, already talking about the ways he might develop his business concept further in his next GCC Entrepreneurship class.