Last fall, Wheaton College kicked off its second annual Shark Tank competition where 13 teams faced off against each other in order to advance to the final round. On Tuesday, the emerging five finalists fought to be the lone “shark” left in Wheaton’s tank and proceed onto another regional round of competition.
Inspired by ABC’s reality TV competition of the same name, Wheaton’s Shark Tank event provides an opportunity for young entrepreneurs to showcase their innovative ideas that cater to a need in a specific community.
Barrows Auditorium was filled with friends and family that came to support the finalists. The spirit of entrepreneurship abounded, as each of the five groups eloquently articulated their vision for their startup companies and businesses.
Although there were only five teams presenting, there was a diverse representation of ideas and a range of interests: Aesop’s Table is a company designed to cater to the needs of those who require a Paleo diet; Proxi, a marketplace venture that would allow Wheaton students to buy and sell items (such as textbooks) in addition to connecting students with other services; The Whole Buffalo proposes a new way for students to network with nonprofits in the area in order to best provide for those in need; Row Amp, a company using physics to improve the rowing experience for members of crew teams; and Curio, an online website selling fair trade products.
The five teams pitched their business proposal to a panel of judges, all of whom were alumni of Wheaton College. The contestants had five minutes to present their business and the judges were given five minutes to ask questions and offer constructive criticism to each team.
After a tough deliberation, the judges chose the winners: Proxi, a team comprising transfer Ben Temple and freshmen Kelen Caldwell, Michael Liu and Connor Jenkins. The group met at Honey Rock during Wheaton Passage 2014, never assuming that they would one day be starting a business together. The group will be one of six teams to compete in the Elevate entrepreneurship competition next weekend.
The Student Alumni Board sponsored and directed the competition, and Opus contributed to the grand prize of $4,000 for the winners to use towards further advancing their business. In addition, the winners will be directly entered into Elevate, a Christian business competition that will be hosted in Coray Gymnasium on Saturday. The winner of Elevate receives $20,000 and entry into the national competition, where they have the opportunity to win $50,000.
Even though they didn’t take home the grand prize, the other contestants expressed their gratitude for the opportunity. “This experience has challenged me to grow in ways I could not have imagined,” said junior Madeline Taylor, creator of Aesop’s Table. “Disney makes following your dreams sound like a walk in the park, but the truth is that it requires vision, perseverance and the humility to ask for help. I am proud to have pursued a dream and defended that dream despite the hard work and difficulty.”
Taylor still plans to further her business — the event helped establish valuable social capital that can allow the contestants to keep their dream alive thanks to the support of alumni, friends, family and those who believe in the vision as much as they do.