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Entrepreneurial Ideas Pitched at Lehigh University’s EUREKA! Event

By Kat Schneider on August 21, 2020

Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation’s EUREKA! Pitch night was held virtually.

Successful ideas and products often provide new perspectives to a long-standing problem or fill a much-needed void.

During the era of the pandemic, ideas especially require a creator who is adaptable and innovative and believes wholeheartedly in the value of their idea.

In short, an idea’s success rests heavily on an intangible, but necessary trait: heart.

Educators and mentors saw a whole lot of heart in the ideas pitched at Lehigh University’s Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity & Innovation’s EUREKA! Pitch night held on Aug. 13.

“The silver lining of this COVID-19 time is that the projects are really speaking to solving problems for other people,” said Renee Baran, who serves as Baker’s Innovation Programs Manager. “The projects driven by the heart often end up being the best projects.”

The recent event saw pitches from students whose ideas included a water filter service, a matching app for caregivers and clients, specialized hair care products, and humane animal traps.

Open to students from all disciplines, EUREKA! pitch nights create a competitive forum where students can present their ideas live via slide deck to a panel of professionals and get real-time feedback on their ventures.

August’s event featured feedback from Wayne Barz, Manager, Entrepreneurial Services at Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania business incubator and Jamie Flinchbaugh founder of JFlinch, a consulting company that offers resources, education and tools for teams.

The EUREKA! events have been a part of Lehigh for 15 years and started as an annual pitch competition. In 2017, organizers began holding it monthly. Typically, the event is held in person, but with social distancing measures in place due to COVID-19, all presentations were held via ZOOM. The online platform held challenges for students but also provided myriad opportunities for learning and growth, Baran said.

“Opening pitch night up on ZOOM has been a great outlet for students and a great way to continue to engage,” she said. “(COVID-19) has not diminished the event but has certainly changed it. Managing technology when you’re pitching gives an extra level of stress and anxiety management.”

At EUREKA!, ideas are categorized according to development stage. Early ideas which can be as basic as a napkin sketch fall into the Stage 1 bucket; prototyped ideas that are beginning to be validated technically and financially are Stage 2 ideas; and prototyped ideas that have clear externally validated rationale both technically and financially are categorized as Stage 3.

For instance, Sareena Karim pitched her idea in the Stage 3 category and was looking funds to further her brand Foli-Q which provides guidance and products for people who are transitioning from processed hair to natural hair. During the event, Karim received her 100th order which was proof of the success of the fledgling brand, which was created from her own struggle transitioning to natural hair.

Winners of the most recent competition were Stage 1: Fernando Tamayo Grados; Stage 2: Christian Tirrito, Brian Quispe  and Graham Patterson and Jack Cunningham; and Stage 3 winners included Sareena Karim and Connor Sept. Winners will receive resources to learn and further validate their concepts which most commonly this translates to spending resources on prototyping, professional gatherings, and user feedback.

Winning the competition does not signify the end of an idea’s journey, however. Often EUREKA! is a launching point for entrepreneurial students, said Baran. “If a student pitches at EUREKA! and is bitten by bug of entrepreneurship, they can take their idea a step further, or right through to their senior year,” she explained.

If an idea does not advance, that’s a learning experience, too. “We really encourage students to explore entrepreneurship with a potential outcome whether it’s loving it or making determination that it’s not for them, either way that’s a valuable experience,” Baran said.

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