Student entrepreneurs jump into CPP’s own version of a ‘shark tank’

The annual Bronco Startup Challenge returned in a virtual format last week, connecting student entrepreneurs with mentors to develop their business ideas into reality. The virtual pitch competition gives students a chance to learn from alumni and business owners.

The Bronco Startup Challenge aims to be a gateway for students to network with successful entrepreneurs from different fields while providing resources to develop students’ business ideas into a reality. The competition replicates the popular business reality TV series, “Shark Tank.”

“It allows Cal Poly students to not only have a place to prototype and to work on these ideas but to work on them with the BSC and get into contact with amazing mentors,” said William Birney, a third-year graduate student majoring in business and the event’s community relations specialist. “They also get publicity from it which will help them attract more investors.”

Along with opportunities to publicize the innovation, the finalist will receive funding to build the business, though the amount has not been finalized yet. According to the program’s Instagram page, its participants have received more than $30,000 in funding since 2012.

The pitch competition included an event that tested participants in public speaking skills. The kickoff mixer, which allowed student inventors to pitch their ideas to business moguls, was held on Nov. 5 via Zoom.

Student inventors, mentors and event organizers participating in this year’s Bronco Startup Challenge met for the first time on Zoom on Nov. 5. (Courtesy of Desiree Sayarath)

All competitors were intended to briefly introduce and pitch their business ideas to the mentors of their choice in the breakout rooms. The event, however, faced technical difficulties, forcing the organizers to shift directions on the spot.

Unable to create individual breakout rooms for the four mentors, students missed the opportunity for the one-on-one meeting with the mentors. Due to the limited time, only three students were able to pitch their business plans to the entire group present on the Zoom call — including mentors, other participants and the audience. These students received brief feedback from several mentors.

Despite the unforeseen challenges, Tyler Rowland, event planner and fourth-year management student said, “It was great to hear everyone’s pitches all together in a larger room. That way, other students have the opportunity that they might have not had in the breakout rooms.”

Event moderator Desiree Sayarath, a fourth-year human resources student, shared that the student entrepreneurs will be partnered with mentors that suit them best, which will be determined by thorough observation and feedback from both the students and judges.

“The event mentors will keep the relationship with the students for the entire Bronco Startup Challenge, but it’s up to the student to prolong that relationship afterward,” Sayarath said.

Birney will play a significant role in this process by regulating who the students get connected to. The partnership between students and the mentors will help those who have a potential idea but do not have a marketing plan for their product, Birney added.

Alumnus Jayson Yardley (’97, finance) is one of the key mentors for this year’s Bronco Startup Challenge. Yardley is currently the CEO of Avadyne Health, a contact center business that assists over 340 hospitals and health systems across the United States with patient payment and financial engagement.

Yardley is also the author of “Rev Up! Bold and Disruptive Strategies to Rev Up Your Revenue Cycle Hero’s Journey.” He has also been featured in various radio shows and podcasts to represent his company.

“Participating in these programs also provides an opportunity to discuss our technology developments and how fun it has been to go through the patent process with these new ideas and products,” Yardley said.

During the next phase of the competition held on Nov. 19, students will present their pre-recorded videos of their in-depth business ideas to the panel of judges.

The Bronco Startup Challenge is expected to last until the spring 2021 semester. For more information, visit its Instagram @cppbsc.

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