Pitches and poker chips

The Carolina Challenge Pitch Party spotlights inventive student ventures and ideas

A new cold-storage device that extends the viability of produce harvested in developing countries. An e-commerce, Amazon-style site for planning more affordable weddings. A venture that allows people to buy and sell internet connectivity from one another. The annual Carolina Challenge Pitch Party brimmed with these kinds of inventive ideas from 81 student venture teams. Their goal: Convince judges to give them the most poker chips and win award funding to move their ideas forward.

“I love the Pitch Party — it’s my favorite event of the year at UNC,” said Professor Jim Kitchen, who teaches Business 500, the Introduction to Entrepreneurship Course at the Kenan-Flagler Business School. “Student teams get to hone their venture ideas by getting feedback from hundreds of experienced business, community and faculty leaders, and the energy and excitement levels are off the charts.”

The energy and excitement that Kitchen describes is reflective of the record-level participation in this year’s event. Students and faculty from nearly every corner of campus join in, while business and public leaders from across the local community lend their expertise. That kind of wide-reaching approach adds up to something special, says Callie Brauel, assistant director of the Entrepreneurship Center at the Kenan-Flagler Business School.

“This venture competition is unique because it casts a wide net: it’s open to anyone with an idea. This year our goal was a truly cross-campus event with more diversity amongst both students and judges,” says Brauel. “We succeeded by asking students to partake in the judging, by adding in a social venture track, and by widespread marketing across departments and classes, thanks to our student president. As a result, we had over 25 degree programs represented across our 81 ventures. Half of the teams who placed were led by all female founders, and we had 250 judges, including 70 students — more than double last year’s count.”

As Brauel notes, students are involved at every phase of the event. And that includes the work of student leaders who help organize and promote the competition to create an experiential learning environment for fellow students.

“The Carolina Challenge is a valuable experience for students, both for those who are pitching their ventures and those serving as judges,” said Jane Morrison (’19), president of the Carolina Challenge, who’s been involved in the competition each of her four years as a student in Chapel Hill. “Both of these roles provide students with a platform that allows them to be involved with the entrepreneurship community across campus. It’s great for them to be in this environment and have the chance to connect with so many people.”

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