Thalheimer Pitch Competition Celebrates Student Entrepreneurs Virtually
April 14th was the date chosen for the Baker Institute’s annual Innovate! Celebrate! dinner, an event that celebrates the successes and contributions of the entrepreneurship community at Lehigh. As with many things planned for the spring of 2020, the in-person event was cancelled and the Baker team quickly made changes to produce elements of Innovate! Celebrate! virtually.
The first of these was the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 Grand Prize Pitch Competition, held the same night as the dinner would have been, April 14th. Four finalist teams were chosen to vie for the prize from the 36 teams that pitched this academic year at the monthly EUREKA! Pitch Nights. The projects chosen as finalists had progressed the furthest, all pitching and winning at Stage 3 (out of 3), where their ideas had been prototyped and had clear externally validated rationale, both technically and financially. The four finalists teams and their projects were:
Justin Gelwicks '23, Personalized wooden lacrosse shafts for consumers and retailers.
Scott Gruninger '20 and Austin Huffman '21, Affordable exhaust systems with valves to allow drivers control over their sound
Ben Mesnik '20, Automated in-game coaching for Counter Strike Global Offensive
Nick Yarnall '20G, B2B crowd management solution for ski resorts that utilizes integrated AI surveillance systems.
The finalists were asked to submit a 5 minute pitch video that outlined why their projects were deserving of the $5,000 grand prize. The videos were first shared with this year’s judges, a group of outstanding entrepreneurs and Lehigh alumni:
David Bovenizer ‘90, founder and CEO of Lionheart Industrial Group.
Alita Friedman ‘87, founder and CEO of Alita's Brand Bar
Paul Martino ‘95, founder of Bullpen Capital.
The judges viewed the presentations and then had the opportunity to question each team. While the judges deliberated, the finalists’ videos were shown via Zoom to a virtual audience. Following the presentations, the judges, ong with Baker’s Executive Director, Lisa Getzler, went live to announce the winners.
The Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ‘55 Grand Prize of $5,000 was presented to Ben Mesnik ‘20 and his project that developed automated in-game coaching for the video game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, with plans to expand to additional games. Judge David Bovenizer said of Ben “We found the most disruptive, biggest opportunity, in [Ben’s project], in terms of the market potential. He's found a white space in a huge market.” Bovenizer continued “He has good relationships with the game developers and his content is both sourced from his own experience and experts in the game itself. And it's a ready to launch platform.”
In a surprise announcement, the judges also awarded a bonus Enterprise Award of $2,500 to Justin Gelwicks ‘23 and his personalized wooden lacrosse sticks project. “We thought that he was very deserving of a prize because he exuded the entrepreneurship qualities that are definitely necessary.” said judge Alita Friedman. “We always look for true entrepreneurs, someone who totally gets their hands dirty, has the passion behind their idea and then works tirelessly to put their idea in motion to bring it to an and Justin has done that.”
Both winners were excited and thankful. Justin said “Thank you for this very generous award. I came to Lehigh because I knew it would offer me the best opportunity to pursue these businesses and since I've been here, Baker and all the support of everyone involved has literally helped me make my dreams come true.”
Award season for the Baker Institute is not over yet. On April 23, there will be a People’s Choice Competition, open to all teams who pitched at an EUREKA! Pitch Night this year. They will submit short pitch videos and the audience will decide a winner. Visit the Baker Institute’s website to register for this exciting event.