February 22, 2017
By Tommy Benson '17 and Mike Killeen
The best elevator-style business pitches that College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University students had to offer were on display Feb. 15 in the Gorecki Family Theater for the ninth annual Eric Rego Big Idea Competition.
It turns out the winning idea was all wet.
Brady Riesgraf, a senior biology major from Chaska, Minnesota, captured the $500 first-place award for his pitch of an underwater weed removing pump, used to rid lakes of undesirable weeds and bacteria.
Placing second and earning $300 was SJU senior Alec Dewitz from Minnetonka, Minnesota. Dewitz, an accounting major, pitched an idea of In-Stock, a website that allows members to purchase limited edition items for retail prices.
Placing third and earning $100 was CSB junior Felicia Mix from St. Michael, Minnesota. Mix, a sociology major, pitched an idea for an informative application for tourists that can act as a virtual tour guide, pointing out important landmarks that might otherwise go unnoticed. It was the second year in a row that Mix placed in the top three of the competition. Her pitch on “Healthy Benefits” placed second in 2016.
This spin-off of the hit TV show “Shark Tank” was put on by the Donald McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship. Students were given 90 seconds to persuade a panel of judges that their business idea was worth investing in.
Business ideas ranged from sock assistance for the elderly, to glow-in-the-dark textbooks to water-saving shower devices.
Riesgraf has run a landscaping and lakeshore restoration company with a friend for about seven years. During that time, his company has pulled weeds from lake bottoms using scuba divers.
“Lake weeds are a huge problem, especially here in Minnesota,” Riesgraf said. “There just are not enough lake weed removal companies to care for the nearly 12,000 lakes in Minnesota.”
Two years ago, Riesgraf’s company was landscaping a commercial building when he started chatting with a renter in the building who “happened to be developing a new chemical-free weed removal device,” Riesgraf said.
“We loved the idea of completely eliminating the use of chemicals in lake areas where kids, friends and family spend a good majority of their time, so we bought two and ran a trial that summer,” Riesgraf said. “Turns out lakefront property owners liked the idea of removing chemicals even more than we did.”
This is the third consecutive year Riesgraf participated in the Rego competition. He placed third in 2015, but did not place in the 2016 event.
“Having the opportunity to compete the last three years, it has been really cool to see the great progress the Eric Rego event has accomplished in the last three years,” Riesgraf said.
“There’s nothing like standing in front of a crowd and a table of judges and pitching ideas and/or concepts that you believe in, but other people might not understand,” Riesgraf said. “There’s an amount of uncertainty and ambiguity to it, but there’s nothing like it and it really is an amazing experience.”
Over 60 video submissions were made to enter the contest. Twelve finalists were selected to advance to the competition Feb. 15.
The panel of celebrity judges consisted of Brian Kueppers ’89, CEO of Apex Revenue Technologies; Margaret Murphy ’90, CEO of 1665 Partners; Ed Driscoll ’83, CEO of Rational Energies; and Judy Zimmer ’84, founder and coach at Coachology.
In addition, there were 12 hidden judges throughout the audience from the CSB/SJU entrepreneurship community. The hidden judges reduced the field from 12 to five, and then the celebrity judges conducted a question-and-answer session to determine the top three places.
The event was named after Eric Rego ’06, a biology major who was a member of the first group of E-Scholars (now known as Entrepreneur Scholars) at CSB and SJU. He passed away in December 2008.
Paul Marsnik, professor of global business leadership at CSB and SJU and academic director of the Entrepreneur Scholars program for the McNeely Center, described Rego as a “great idea man.” Through his involvement in the beginnings of the E-Scholar program, Rego was instrumental in the advancement of entrepreneurial activities for CSB and SJU students.
The event was sponsored by the McNeely Center for Entrepreneurship; Mark and Sonia Rego, Eric’s parents; Jim Orricio, who was Eric’s boss at Coordinated Business Systems; Helen Egland; The Dental Health Center-Falkowski Dentistry; Capital Granite and Marble Inc.; John Barsody; Flightless Bird Creative; and Foster Brever Law Firm.
In addition to the Rego competition, five students were selected from the audience for an on-the-fly idea contest called the Fish Bowl competition. The students drew ideas from a fish bowl, and then had a short amount of time to develop a 30-second pitch. CSB junior P. Drew won the competition and a Gary’s Pizza for her idea of glow in the dark toilet paper.