Hearing countless news stories about car accidents prompted Elliot Plant to think up a car suspension system that could negate the effects of bumps or potholes on the road.
In front of a crowd of about 140 people at the first Perfect Pitch competition Thursday night, the third-year mechanical engineering student presented his idea to prevent the thousands of car accidents that happen each year.
Plant was one of three winners who received a $1,000 prize for his brainchild at the competition hosted by Bruin Entrepreneurs, an organization that offers resources and support to students who are starting their own businesses.
Perfect Pitch aimed to provide budding entrepreneurs with a platform to cultivate innovative business ideas and to inspire other UCLA students to come up with their own product ideas, said Varadh Jain, a second-year mathematics and economics student and president of Bruin Entrepreneurs.
Some participants entered projects they had been working on for months prior to the event, while others submitted plans they had for future business ideas.
Students submitted nearly 350 video pitches for the competition’s three categories: social entrepreneurship, technology and non-technology. Members of the organization then narrowed down the pool to 15 finalists who pitched their ideas at Thursday’s competition, where 10 judges chose a winner from each category.
Winners were chosen based on a set of criteria evaluating their ability to confidently pitch their ideas, the marketability of their products and the innovativeness of their ideas, among other factors.
During the event at UCLA’s Neuroscience Research Building, prominent entrepreneurs such as Howard Marks, co-founder of the video game publisher Activision Publishing, Inc., gave advice to the attendees and spoke about their own struggles in launching their first businesses.
“No matter how good your idea is, there will be obstacles in your path. No matter how great your team is, there will be challenges,” said Eytan Elbaz, a founding member of the company Applied Semantics.
Despite the challenges they faced, speakers told students to weather any hardships they may encounter.
“Get through that lawsuit, through that bad launch … and through that engineer who lost half your code one day,” said Elbaz to a laughing audience. “Because tomorrow is always better.”
Lightspeed Venture Partners, Microsoft Corporation and Demand Media, Inc., along with several other companies, funded the event.
On Thursday, competitors were given four minutes to present their ideas before judges asked them questions for up to three minutes about their projects.
In the social entrepreneurship category – a group for projects that promote social or humanitarian causes – pitches included a crowdsourcing website for people afflicted with cancer and a mobile application that could enable farming communities to figure out which crops would be most suitable to grow in their areas, among others.
After a close friend was diagnosed with cancer, Calvin Chan, the winner in the category, said he came up with the idea for a crowdsourcing website that would allow users to donate funds to those with cancer.
“We all know what it’s like to have a dream,” said Chan, a second-year computer science student and the assistant web producer at the Daily Bruin, at the event. “We want to help kids with cancer turn their dreams into reality.”
Several students said they decided to organize Perfect Pitch to help students find a support system for their ideas.
“I think this event is a really good way to expose good entrepreneurs to a community of people who actually want to help,” said Justin Brezhnev, a UCLA communication studies student who graduated last quarter. “I myself had a startup and had no one to look up to, and I was banging my head against my dorm room wall.”
The winner for the non-technology category, Nare Israelyan, said she joined the competition after Brezhnev encouraged her to pitch ideas to him.
The third-year business economics student pitched an idea about a lending program that would enable students to connect with alumni through a website, where users could explain their financial situations and alumni could offer them zero percent interest loans.
As the night began to wane, the competition culminated with presentations from the technology category.
“Let me get a drumroll!” said Brezhnev with a shout. “This is technology, baby!”
Thumps, whoops and hollers rang in unison throughout the concourse of the building.
In the technology category, competitors’ pitches included Plant’s car suspension idea, an application that could create other applications and transmitter technology that could prevent users from losing items.
Several of the event’s attendees said they were impressed by the wide variety of student pitches.
“Some of these ideas are things I’ve never even considered,” said Meghana Kumar, a fourth-year chemical engineering student. “It’s been interesting to listen to ideas that fit into more niche categories, and some that have been broader in scope.”
Bruin Entrepreneurs plans on making Perfect Pitch an annual event and wants to encourage more students to pursue starting their own businesses, Jain said.