Mile high ideas: Students successfully pitch ventures

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February 11, 2019

Gary Harala

SJU senior Gary Harala (left) is congratulated by Peter Rachor (center), director of the University of Portland’s Center for Entrepreneurship, and CSB/SJU professor Paul Marsnik. Harala won the competition.

Bridget Erickson

CSB senior Bridget Erickson is congratulated by Peter Rachor, director of the University of Portland’s Center for Entrepreneurship. She placed third in the competition.

Gary Harala and Bridget Erickson were passionate about their entrepreneurship pitches.

That’s one of the reasons the Saint John’s University senior and College of Saint Benedict senior placed first and third, respectively, at the Entrepreneur Scholar Consortium Pitch competition Jan. 31-Feb. 2 at Denver.

It’s the fourth consecutive year that a student from CSB or SJU has won the pitch competition.

Competing against 28 students from CSB, SJU and the University of Portland (Oregon), Harala pitched an aquaponics upgrade to Edelbrock Greens, a greenhouse in Flynntown at SJU.

“Having been in charge of the greenhouse for the last couple of years, I knew I wanted to pitch and present on the subject,” said Harala, a senior economics major from Evergreen, Colorado. “Greenhouses have been an interest of mine from a very early age and I feel I have become quite knowledgeable on the subject.”

“I gave a pitch on a venture I’ve been working on for the past year, Ravivé Restoration,” said Erickson, a senior global business leadership major from Warroad, Minnesota. “This venture grew out of my passion for interior design and furniture.”

Each of the 12 students in the 2017-19 Entrepreneur Scholars (or E-Scholars) cohort at CSB and SJU, along with 16 students from Portland, presented a 90-second pitch on a venture idea that they have been developing through the E-Scholars programs. Students were then judged by alumnae/i from CSB, SJU and Portland, with 10 students selected as finalists.

Those finalists then gave their pitches again to a new set of alumnae/i judges, who determined the top place winners.

“I’m so proud of Gary and Bridget,” said Paul Marsnik, professor of global business leadership who leads the E-Scholars program. “They both put in countless hours working on their ventures and they both did an awesome job of distilling a complicated set of messages into a 90-second pitch.

“I can’t tell you how difficult that is to do, but they did it with style, grace and great passion,” Marsnik said.

That’s perhaps easier to do when both ventures meant so much to Harala and Erickson.

“I’ve pitched this idea numerous times while in the program, so speaking about my venture has become really natural by this point,” Erickson said. “Pitching something that I’m passionate about is always fun, and I think my passion for this idea really came through in my delivery.”

Harala’s pitch concerned aquaponics, which is a combination of aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) that grows fish and plants together in one integrated system. The fish waste provides an organic food source for the plants, and the plants naturally filter the water for the fish.

During fall semester, Harala’s greenhouse team installed a prototype aquaponics system in the greenhouse.

“Looking to expand and improve upon our current operations, we discovered this was the best – and most engaging – method to do so,” Harala said. “We want to continue testing before we transform the current system from vertical cutter growing to aquaponics.

Erickson’s Ravivé Restoration restores pieces of timeworn furniture while celebrating the historic design and integrity each piece, contributing to the environmental movement of re-use.

“In addition to restoring pieces of furniture, I capture the stories of the pieces on my blog. Ravivé is the French word for ‘revived’ – I chose this name with my French heritage in mind, tying it back to my mission of celebrating stories and history by revitalizing pieces of furniture,” Erickson said.

Both said the competition was beneficial.

“It is always important to step out of your comfort zone and expand your skill set,” Harala said. “Being a little more on the quiet side, I’m glad I had the opportunity to grow as an individual and represent CSB/SJU.”

“I’m now much more confident in my abilities to pitch a business idea – and I’m looking for new opportunities to compete in other business idea competitions,” Erickson said.