Seven teams advance to finals of Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge

Parker Raven presents Crossfit Greenville Kids during the second round of the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge. (ECU photo by Steven Mantilla)

After making their pitch, seven teams separated themselves from the pack and advanced to the finals of the 2023-24 Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge.

The second round was held Tuesday in the East Carolina University’s Health Sciences Student Center. Following presentations by 13 teams to a panel of judges, the seven teams were chosen and now have the opportunity to win $170,000 in cash and in-kind prizes. The Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge is in its seventh year.

“This round is very different from the first round because the communication is occurring in front of an audience,” said Chip Galusha, acting director of the COB’s Miller School of Entrepreneurship. “Their focus was not just on growing their business venture but communicating the value of their concept to the judges. Many of the ideas have multiple team members, and they are leaning into the strengths of each member. For example, several have a technical lead, business development and someone who is good with communication.”

Tuesday’s second-round participants began their quest in October as part of a first round that saw more than 70 teams present their ideas on the ECU Mall.

All teams were evaluated by the following judges:

  • April Kelly –founder and chief operating officer of Sure! plant-based formula that provides infants and toddlers with complete nutrition, quality and convenience.
  • Tyler Lumley – startup business counselor with the ECU Small Business and Technology Development Center SBTDC, returning judge.
  • Vin McCaffrey – successful entrepreneur, grew and sold Game Plan.
  • Dr. Tilwanda (Tee) Steinberg, DBA – vice president of learning and development at Southern Bank and Miller School Entrepreneur-in-Residence.
  • Kate Wiggins – program support at NC Idea, the leading North Carolina entrepreneurship support foundation. Former rural small business owner.

Each of the five judges picked a team they would mentor with another team chosen in a vote by those in attendance. Due to a tie in the audience voting, seven teams advanced to the finals.

The finalists include:

  • Crossfit Greenville Kids, a place of strength and empowerment for the area kids.
  • Horizon Shield, a pedestrian safety system for intersection monitoring.
  • Limulus Biomedical, a company that will design, construct and maintain aquaculture systems for the American horseshoe crab with the purpose of sustainable hemolymph collection.
  • Moon Grips, a novel universal pill bottle opener to ease the process of adhering to medication regimens.
  • PALMQUATICS, a service-based business that works with boat dealerships and private owners to provide repair services specializing in fiberglass and gel coat repair.
  • Surf Stick, surf wax in a twist up-down stick container (like deodorant) that is heat resistant and environmentally friendly.
  • Talkative, a virtual reality speaking environment to help speech language pathologists assist their stuttering patients with real-world situations.

The College of Allied Health Sciences, College of Business, College of Engineering and Technology, Thomas Hariot College of Arts and Sciences and College of Fine Arts and Communication will be represented during the finals. The advancing teams are made up of six undergraduate students, two master’s students, and one doctoral student.

“Finalists set themselves apart by demonstrating a market need to the student body, or by proving their concept is valid to a panel of expert judges,” said Galusha.

For Parker Raven, a junior entrepreneurship student, Crossfit Greenville Kids is an idea that allows her to share a love of exercise with a group that is still working on their self-discovery.

“As a kid, I didn’t play any sports and didn’t have a likeness for exercise,” she said. “My dad wanted to get me off the couch. I had a lot of energy, and he figured I could put it to good use, and he was right. I fell in love with Crossfit, and I want to spread that love of exercise to the next generation in Greenville.”

Her idea blossomed after noticing children at her gym playing on tablets because there wasn’t an option for them.

“They now choose to play on the rings instead of on their tablet or iPad.”

The Pirate Challenge seemed to be a natural next step to help further develop her idea.

“When I heard about the competition, I figured that I’m already doing this, it would be a fun extra challenge and a way to learn a lot. I’m excited to learn from my mentor and work closely with them,” said Raven.

Making the last pitch of the 13 groups of the evening to the judges, Surf Stick advanced to the final round as part of the audience vote. The freshmen duo of Garrison Miller, a finance major, and Will Jones, an entrepreneurship major, didn’t know each other before the start of the school year but an idea brought them together.

“I had the idea about two years ago while in the kitchen at my friend’s beach house,” explained Jones. “I sat on it for a few years. I met Garrison here at ECU and told him about it. He mentioned the (Pirate) Entrepreneurship Challenge and that I should do it before mentioning he’d do it with me. Garrison helped make the concept, started buying products, put it together and it worked.”

“I created small clothing companies in high school and have always had the entrepreneurial spirit,” said Miller. “I wanted to do the challenge, and when I met Will he said he wanted to do it. I encouraged him to do it and then he asked me to join him I was more than willing. It’s a dream come true.”

The final round of the Pirate Challenge is scheduled for April 10 in the Main Campus Student Center.