Two semesters of blood, sweat and tears came to fruition on Friday as University of Arizona students in the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship program put their ideas on the line in a Shark Tank-like contest.
Startup teams competed for a total of $40,000 in prizes at the McGuire New Venture Competition, a rapid-fire pitch competition and interactive trade show that featured 19 teams made up of 90 students.
A team specializing in energy management through indoor horticulture called Specteros left the day on top, taking home the grand prize of $10,000 along with the Connect Coworking Award, the StageXchange Award, and the Microsoft Social Impact Award, which combined are valued at $21,300.
Attendees at the event included Karl and Stevie Eller, the namesakes of the business school, as well as investors, community members, high school students and students in the Eller College of Management.
Among the judges were past graduates of the program who have gone on to be successful entrepreneurs, the director of retail sales at Intel, and Christopher McGuire, the namesake of the entrepreneurship center and program.
For those who helped make the competition happen, the event means a lot more than just a contest for cash.
“Our focus with the students is not so much whether or not they launch a business, the focus is really whether or not we’ve empowered them with the right mindset to be able to do things and also the skill sets to do them,” said Remy Arteaga, director of the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship.
McGuire said the New Venture Competition and Showcase is a key university program that has gained a lot of attention across the country.
The U.S. News and World Report ranked the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship third among public undergraduate entrepreneurship programs. Arteaga believes the competition is just one of the things contributing to that ranking.
“For the university, it’s a great way to form community, so everybody comes together,” he said. “In an area like this you want to have a very entrepreneurial community, and a place like Tucson has a very burgeoning one, one that’s really on the cusp. We have a great university, and we’re building a lot of the entrepreneurial stuff around the university.”
As for the winning team, the feeling of being recognized and rewarded for something it invested two full semesters on is a sensation the team’s four members had trouble putting into words.
“It’s very surreal to get to this point and have people believe in our idea as much as we believe in it, and just have an opportunity to pursue our passion, to pursue our venture,” said Eddie LaVilla, a member of Specteros. “We’re tremendously thankful for the program and what it’s provided for us, so we hope to do them justice in the future.”