When Stephen Koda played lacrosse at Gaithersburg High School, he realized there was a need in school lacrosse teams across the county: Everyone was wearing mismatching pants and shirts. In short, they didn’t look like a team.
“Professional teams walk out onto the field and look fantastic, sharp, exactly the same, and that’s what I want to give to the high schools,” Koda said on April 11 before pitching his business model to a panel of judges during this year’s Raptor Tank business pitch competition in the Rockville Campus’ Theatre Arts Building.
All students involved in the program develop an important range of skills through a valuable life experience
He started Rocket Sports two years ago and has been selling lacrosse equipment and sportswear for more than a year to seven teams in three high schools in Montgomery County.
Koda was the grand prize winner in this year’s competition and plans to use the $2,500 prize to purchase an embroidery machine. “That will cut down on our customization costs, reduce our turnaround times to our customers from an already outstanding three weeks to as little as three to five days. It will also increase our profit margin, which is always beneficial to the company,” said Koda, who has thus far been outsourcing the embroidery work.
His goal is to introduce his company to club sports and lower youth teams and grow within the county. “Next year we have interest from 17 teams across five high schools so we are looking to expand.”
Raptor Tank is modeled after the ABC television show Shark Tank. Student entrepreneurs give their pitches before a live audience, MCTV cameras, and panel of judges from the business community. The judges choose the winners who each receive seed money to start making their business ideas a reality.
The Macklin Business Institute (MBI) provides full funding for the event through its MBI Café operation. For the event, two MBI students are selected as coleaders and are involved in the entire seven-month process. They market the competition and conduct orientations in the fall to encourage students to submit abbreviated business plans for consideration. They then work with faculty to review the submissions and select a group of finalists who will participate in seven spring workshops leading up to the event.
“This event is unique because it is student funded and student run, so students are helping students achieve success, with support from faculty and the business community. As a result, all students involved in the program develop an important range of skills through a valuable life experience,” said Hannah Weiser, MC faculty member and Raptor Tank codirector.
Aixa Hernandez came in second place and received $1,250 to invest in EDWER, an educational website and app meant to help students in high school ESOL classes. Hernandez, who is originally from Peru, believes the tool will also help the community as a whole because the students who benefit will have more resources to give back.
Third place went to Nathalie Vilson of Lily N’ Pip Apron Boutique, a line of high-end aprons for women, though she would like to offer to men and children later on. “It would be an apron that would fit the person’s shape and style, and add a little sauce to it,” Vilson said about her idea. She plans to use the $750 toward jumpstarting her business, specifically on marketing and manufacturing of a prototype.
I was incredibly impressed with the student entrepreneurs and how well they pitched their business concepts
Ryan Baker and Elisa Haddad received $500 for earning the Audience Choice Award for their streetwear and visual media brand Doughnut Shop Collective. Andrey Kuzin and Anh Nguyen were also finalists. Kuzin pitched a device that can convert the mechanical energy from a bicycle’s wheels into electrical energy to charge a mobile device, and Nguyen’s idea is of an Entertainment Brand that delivers informative and entertaining hip-hop related contents.
MC’s Digital Media Manager Staffan Sandberg was one of the judges. He praised the students’ work. “I was incredibly impressed with the student entrepreneurs and how well they pitched their business concepts,” he said. “It’s not easy to get up in front of a live audience, TV cameras, and a panel of judges, but they did an outstanding job.”
Koda, this year’s grand winner, offered encouragement to prospective participants: “It’s definitely something they should try because it can really help start and grow a business.”