In 'Startup Madness,' ACC entrepreneurs pitch their products

kpoe@newsobserver.comMarch 27, 2013 

— Despite early exits in the NCAA Tournament for the Wolfpack and Tar Heels, March Madness was alive and well on the N.C. State University campus Wednesday.

The third annual “Startup Madness” competition hosted teams from all 12 Atlantic Coast Conference schools, vying for a trip to Silicon Valley to meet with venture capital firms and successful startup companies such as Facebook.

Marketing everything from the world’s thinnest Bluetooth speaker to shoes that charge your devices, teams traveled to N.C. State’s Centennial Campus to pitch their ideas to business professors, experienced entrepreneurs and potential investors.

Competing students stand to gain even if they lose, said Scott Kelly, a Triangle entrepreneur and the competition’s founder. Students can network and gain necessary experience pitching their product.

“It takes thousands of times pitching to really understand what you’d like to develop,” Kelly said. “Students can develop their ideas and focus on what they’re trying to solve.”

The competition was held at the American Tobacco campus in Durham the first two years before moving to N.C. State’s James B. Hunt Jr. Library this year.

Undergraduates and graduate students competed, and many said their startup plans would be their full-time jobs upon graduation. Some of the competing teams already had patents and investors for their startups.

The competition was modeled after basketball’s March Madness, starting with 22 teams in the first round, followed by an Elite Eight round.

Each round consisted of the startup companies pitching their products and answering questions from a panel of judges.

Tatiana Birgisson, who graduated from Duke University in December, came to pitch Mati Tea, a company she started slightly more than a year ago. Birgisson sells healthy carbonated teas to local offices, but she’s looking to expand to local restaurants. She didn’t make it past the first round.

“(Startup Madness) is getting my name out there, especially locally,” Birgisson said.

Judges evaluated competitors based on three criteria that make a good startup, said judge David Townsend, an assistant professor of entrepreneurship at N.C. State. A good startup has quality management, an effective product or technology and a good market, Townsend said.

Judges also evaluate factors like whether the product already has buyers, he added.

“Students generally have good ideas,” Townsend said. “What these competitions do is allow students to meet people out in the real world.”

A University of Miami startup won first place in the competition for Chill-N Nitrogen Ice Cream, a company that aims to create a better ice cream flavor by eliminating the refreezing process using nitrogen

Michelle Crawford, who is pursuing a master’s of business administration at Florida State University, pitched Erista, an online clothing company with shapewear built into the clothing.

“I wanted to win the competition to have access to seed capital and the professional resources that they offer,” Crawford said. “It’s just a great way to make contacts.”

Poe: 919-829-4918

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