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Students at nearly every college face the same challenges—getting good grades, juggling work and school—and finding a good parking space. So students Delick Mutabazi, Alwin Sheriff, and Philip Saidely are working to develop a mobile app to help students and faculty find nearby parking spaces. The app, called Usher, was one of six finalists in the third annual Raptor Tank business pitch competition on April 12.

The competition 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.

Christina Wright

This year, 23 students from a variety of majors submitted business proposals. The six finalists, selected by a panel of business faculty and students, attended workshops in topics like finance and marketing. They also worked with faculty mentors to refine their ideas over several months.

“I’ve learned a lot,” said Nebile Isayas. “When people critique you, it shows you so many different perspectives…and they ask questions you never would ask yourself.”

Isayas won the audience choice award for his app, Evol, which suggests activities for a user based on his on her interests—and provides discounts and the chance to meet others who enjoy the same things.

Second place winner, Christina Wright, pitched Christina’s Creations, a customized baby bedding collection. “It was a great opportunity to learn different business aspects and to know I can follow my dreams and achieve my goals.”

Wright, who is a full-time student, mom, and employee, says she got the idea for customized bedding after her third child was born and she could not find anything she liked in a retail store. In true entrepreneurial spirit, she sewed her own.

The seed money for the winners is entirely student-generated, coming from the proceeds of Macklin Business Institute’s “We Proudly Serve Starbucks” MBI Café on the Rockville Campus. The team behind Usher, the parking app, won third place.

Stephen Lang, director of the Macklin Business Institute, says running the café is the “flagship experience” of the Macklin program. Students operate and manage the café; profits support running the Raptor Tank competition and the seed money for winners, as well as other programs during the year.

And while the students plan, market, and finance the competition, in the end it is the team of six judges—experienced business owners and entrepreneurs—who crown the winner.

Judge Iris Sherman describes herself as a serial entrepreneur. She is the founder of the popular social cooking platform Kitchology (her sixth startup). She says good ideas are just the start.

“In order for an idea to be a reality, you have to write business plans, you have to learn how to make money, and learn how to give back that money in returns.”

Chris Swift

Fellow judge David Popp, a recently retired real estate executive, agreed. “It is all about closing the deal. Is this something a customer or a client will buy? Is this really going to generate sales?”

This year’s winner was Swift Fitness. Certified personal trainer and MC student Chris Swift earned $2,500 in seed money. Swift pitched the idea of partnering with apartment complexes that offer tenants exercise rooms. Swift Fitness would then provide classes and assistance on using the equipment along with exercise programs and coaching.

“It feels great to get the seed money, and I am very thankful for this opportunity and hopefully I can grow my business,” Swift said after the competition.

Finalist Amir Nouraie, who with Stanley Roth created a board game to help psychologists deliver cognitive behavior therapy, summed up the spirit of Raptor Tank. “We learned that getting out and enacting the entrepreneurial process is a lot different from coming up with an idea. It comes out to how good your execution is.”

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Inspired? Got the entrepreneurial spirit yourself? Judges Popp and Sherman are adjunct faculty members teaching courses in business and marketing.