Iowa City Press-Citizen: Students Pitch Their Ideas

Monday, November 16, 2009

Web Note:  Matt Kemp and Ben Peiffer are College of Engineering seniors, majoring in electrical engineering.

B.A. Morelli
Iowa City Press-Citizen

Some see an ominous cloud hanging over Friday the 13th, but for 17 lucky University of Iowa students, Friday may mark the day where their business ideas took off.

UI seniors Matt Kemp, 21, and Ben Peiffer, 22, were among those who won seed money to help to turn their business visions into reality. Kemp and Peiffer say their company, KruTek Technologies, will manufacture river stage sensors to put under bridges that can measure the height of a river or stream.

"The reason no one could accurately measure the crest of the river (during the 2008 flood) was because they didn't have anything to measure the smaller creeks and streams that funneled into the larger system," Kemp told judges in the second annual elevator pitch competition.

The event was put on by the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at the UI Tippie College of Business. A panel of three judges selected 17 winners from 41 pitches on Friday. Each participant had 10 minutes to pitch their ideas and field questions from the panel.

"We just thought it would be a good way to springboard our idea. Up-front costs are pretty expensive to start something like this," said Peiffer, noting they need about $5,000 to start up.

They received $750.

UI senior Harrison Wheeler, 22, won $1,250 to help him with his start-up called Onyx Media Group, which is an online service to provide audio and video content on demand.

"We are streaming on demand, so you can choose what you want to listen to right away," Wheeler told judges.

The pitches were judged based on 30 percent for the presentation itself, 40 percent for the viability of the business idea and 30 percent on whether the students plan to pursue it.

"I think of the practicality of it working," said Rich McCarty, a Tippie college lecturer and one of the three judges.
Given that many proposals rely on technology, he looks at the viability of the technology that will support the approach to doing business, McCarty said.

In total, $20,000 was distributed with prizes ranging from $250 to $2,500. The money came from the Grow Iowa Values Fund, a state grant program aimed at economic development.

Amberly Hagen, an event coordinator for the entrepreneurial center, helped plan the event.

"It's a great opportunity for early stage start-up companies. We want students to have the opportunity to start a business, especially here in Iowa," Hagan said.