Jason Waller, SMU EMIS major and Afghanistan veteran, stared at the crowd of 50 parents and students, nerves heightening as he approached the front of the Hughes-Trigg Forum for the minute that he had anticipated for weeks.
Once in front of the room, he faced six judges, recognizing some, such as Dr. Simon Mak from class, and began his business proposal for Veterans for Americans. Within minutes, however, his pitch and Q&A session had ended, and he waited to hear the fate of his big idea, which he had been contemplating for three years.
“Instead of allowing it to intimidate me because these are my first steps in unfamiliar territory, I realize that with the support of those around me and effort on my part, I can do this!” Waller wrote in an email message.
Waller’s pitch was a one of 24 that competed in this year’s Big iDeas Pitch Contest on Oct. 30. The event took place during this year’s Family Weekend festivities. After two hours of listening to different pitches, he and eight other groups came out of the event with a winning pitch and $1,000 to implement a prototype in three months.
“Big iDeas is all about action, which is at the heart of entrepreneurship,” Simon Mak, professor in the Cox School of Business said. “The classroom teaches theory and concepts, and Big iDeas provides a co-curricular platform to practice the lessons learned in the classroom.”
The winning pitches included: Barhop by Brandon McFarland, Campus Concierge by Tristan Sandor, Crowd Surfers by Chris Alfano, Fiddler by Jonah Kirby, Mexican Bingo by Roberto Hernandez, Mustango by Yuzhe Huang, Motus by Sasha Muhammad and Alena Taufiq, N-Case by Tor Lundstrom and Arthur Work and Veterans for Americans by Jason Waller.
Each team combined their own personal interests into an innovative plan, creating specialized and unique pitches that dealt with some consumer or societal issue. Six of the nine approved pitches plan to create a mobile application while the other plans varied from creating a business to creating a wind turbine.
Sophomores Tor Lundstrom and Arthur Work dedicated their project N-Case to addressing the bad packaging of glucagon for diabetic patients. They both encountered this issue through their experience dealing with diabetes personally or by living with immediate family members with diabetes.
“I’m looking forward to not only seeing what we can create for a prototype, but hearing feedback from the diabetic community on how to improve our product,” Lundstrom said. “This will also give me the chance to wear it myself.”
Despite the reasoning for business plans, each group has a lot of work ahead of them in order to create their prototype by the January deadline.
“The next three months is about telling people, businesses, users and investors about how Crowd Surfers is going to benefit them and solving a problem that everyone faces every day,” senior Chris Alfano said. “It’s going to change the way you navigate crowds and lines in the most accurate real time manner.”
Big iDeas is a program run by the Engaged Learning office for SMU undergraduates of any major. Big iDeas allows students to develop team proposals, whereas the Engaged Learning Symposium solely accepts individual projects.
“Big iDeas encourages students to think outside the box, and it’s their startup,” Mona Alluri, assistant director of Engaged Learning, said.
After receiving funding from Big iDeas, students are given three months to develop a prototype for their business plan, receiving guidance along the way by professors and the Engaged Learning staff. At the end of this time period, teams will present their progress at the Big iDeas Demo Day on Jan. 29.