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UNCP’s entrepreneurs make their best 90-second pitch

October 20, 2009

Appearances do count when you make “the pitch,” especially if there are only 90 seconds.


EntrepreneursSelma Nijs, James Hampton, Jaclyn Waite, Janaya Wesley, Demario Jones, Shanee Haire and Owen Thomas.

Seven UNC Pembroke seniors, all entrepreneurs-in-training, took the “elevator” challenge on October 6. They gave business pitches to a panel of expert judges for everything from health spas to trucking companies.

Lumbee Guaranty Bank CEO Larry Chavis was a judge. He was looking for good communication skills, but he also had an eye on experience.

“Usually I get a 90-second pitch that lasts a lot longer,” Chavis said with a smile. “Experience is very important, but I get a lot of experienced people who can’t write a business plan.”

Judge Beth Wilkerson, an expert in business plans and assistant director of UNCP’s Small Business and Technology Development Commission (SBTDC), said the competition is a good one.

“Most people have a brief attention span, so you should get it done in the first 60-to-90 seconds anyway,” Wilkerson said. “For this type of business pitch, get in front of the mirror.

“I wouldn’t go too deep into numbers, and I wouldn’t assume your audience has a baseline understanding of your business,” she said.

Nick Arena, a top business executive turned professor, said communication skills are essential.

“I am teaching a class on business communication right now,” Arena said. “Eye contact is important. It helps to be relaxed too.”


The JudgesFrom left: Nick Arena, Beth Wilkerson and Larry Chavis

The seven presenters are in Dr. Mike Menefee’s capstone or final class in UNCP’s new entrepreneurship certificate program. They are the first seven graduates, and they performed well under pressure.

“There are cash prizes for the top three,” Dr. Menefee said. “That adds to the pressure and gives it a sense of reality.”

Shahnee Haire won $100 for her first place pitch for a healthy lifestyles studio for children.

“Childhood obesity is increasing,” she said. “I have four years experience teaching dance, and I worked in a teen outreach program at the Health Department.”

Haire hit every mark - appearance, poise, clarity of message and marketing savvy.

Second place went to James Hampton, who would start a trucking and warehousing company in Rowland, N.C., his hometown.

“I have 30 years in this industry, eight as a driver,” Hampton said. “There is a great need to move goods to slaughterhouses, for retail, government and the military.

“Our community needs the jobs and I estimate we would create 25-30,” he concluded.

Tied for third place was Jaclyn Waite, who would open a live music bar called “Anti-Gravity” in Cary, N.C.

“Cary’s dilemma is that there is not enough to do,” Waite said. “Anti-Gravity is the solution.

“The only question I have is ‘will you be with me to share the profits?’” she concluded.

Also tied for third place was Selma Nijs, an exchange student from the Netherlands, who would import an idea from Europe to build spas in the upscale Washington, D.C., area.

“Listen to your body, Europeans do,” Nijs said. “We lead stressful lives, and this idea works in Europe,” she concluded.

“Why not in the U.S.?” she asked.

Cash prizes were contributed by Lumbee Guaranty Bank and Tony Normand, CEO of COMtech.