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Westheimer New Venture competition brings a “Shark-Tank” environment to student entrepreneurs

Westheimer New Venture competition brings a “Shark-Tank” environment to student entrepreneurs

April 12
12:31 2017

Students with innovative business ideas can pitch their proposals to a panel of business professionals in a “Shark-Tank”-like setting at the Westheimer New Venture Competition on April 28.

Created and funded by UNT alumnus Jerome ‘Bruzzy’ Westheimer, the competition is open to students from all colleges, sophomore year and up, including graduate students. Up to three students can collaborate on a team and must submit a professional proposal by March 31. 

Bruzzy will be donating cash prizes to the top three places, $10,000, $5,000 and $1,000 respectively. Because he knows the teams that don’t make it to the top three work just as hard, he said he is offering $100 to each participant.

“I’m just a person that wants to give back,” Bruzzy said. “I have this motto I use sometimes with the scholarships I give: A student should not be denied a lack of education because of a lack of money.”

Participants that make it to the final round will professionally present their proposals in the College of Business Dean’s boardroom. They will be expected to interest the panel of judges, which will consist of business professionals, some of which are close childhood friends of Bruzzy’s. 

Bruzzy said he was extremely timid when he attended UNT, and it wasn’t until after he graduated that he overcame that shyness. After landing a job at a bank in downtown Dallas, Bruzzy met many people who recognized his last name and knew of his father. He started making more connections after joining Crime Stoppers in his hometown of Ardmore, Oklahoma.

Through Crime Stoppers, Bruzzy said he was forced out of his comfort zone to meet new people and make connections. That is his hope for students that participate in the competition, that they will interact with the judges and share ideas they are passionate about.

“I was so shy in college, I was afraid to hold up my hand in class,” Bruzzy said.  “Once these students go out in the real world, if they hadn’t learned these skills, they will not learn.”

Proposals will be judged on quality and originality of the idea, depth of supporting research and justification for the project, impact of the proposed idea, professionalism of writing and return on investment.

The top three teams will also receive a six-month membership at Stoke Denton, a non-profit facility that helps entrepreneurs build their ideas. Members can use the space to work alongside local professionals and hold conferences.

Heather Gregory, director at Stoke, heard about Bruzzy’s contest through the College of Business’ website and wanted to be involved. She said Stoke has many supporters that volunteer as mentors, and working alongside people who are possibly doing something similar could open up opportunity for students. Stoke also offers half-priced memberships to students, honored until one year after graduation.

“I have strong interest in connecting more with the universities,” Gregory said. “Particularly students in business or tech wanting to start their own business.”

Business marketing senior John Michael Davis was walking by a digital kiosk in the Business Leadership Building his sophomore year when he saw and ad for UNT’s IDEA Competition.  Hosted by the Murphy Center for Entrepreneurship, the now-retired competition had students give two minute pitches to a panel of judges for a $250 prize and the opportunity to have dinner with the panel of judges.

Davis was interested in pitching a plan, but missed the deadline for the contest. When he heard of the New Venture Competition, Davis saw another opportunity to compose a proposal.

“Personally, I’m not going to determine my success by placing in the competition or not placing,” he said. “I just want to submit quality work. And besides, we’re all going to walk away winners. The experience of preparing a business plan and then maybe presenting it to a panel of professionals is invaluable.”

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Haley Yates

Haley Yates

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