48 Hour Launch winners plan to take ideas to market

It isn’t exactly Shark Tank, the ABC-TV reality show with a panel of entrepreneurs and business executives called “Sharks” who consider offers from other entrepreneurs seeking investments for their business or product.

It is 48 Hour Launch, the premier of a business plan competition at Vanderbilt staring 40 undergraduates who created “Pitch Decks” aimed at early-stage venture capitalists or angel investors. The inaugural event in Stevenson Center Nov. 2-4 was open to all undergraduates and sponsored by the Vanderbilt Managerial Studies Program and the Nashville Entrepreneur Center.

48 Hour Launch winners (L-R) John Zhang, Marc Rosen, Sean Moynahan, Gianfranco Scipioni and Zach Sherman.

With business ideas ranging from an eCommerce platform designed to export American women’s fashion brands to the Chinese market to chat applications allowing programmers to collaborate on coding challenges, 15 teams worked two days to refine their ideas under the tutelage of dozens of Nashville business mentors before the final pitch Sunday afternoon.

The 10-point Pitch Deck format provides a framework for pitching a business. It and the prizes came from the entrepreneur center. First place prize was a $5,000 cash award and $5,000 in services provided by the center. Second and third place awards were $2,500 and $1,000 in cash.

Three engineering students were among the winners. Marc Rosen, a junior economics and computer science double major, Gianfranco Scipioni, a sophomore computer engineering major, and teammate Sean Moynahan, a senior human and organizational development major, captured second place. John Zhang, a junior engineering science major with minors in engineering management and managerial studies, took third place.

Bitcast, created by Zach Sherman, a junior economics major, won first place. Bitcast is an online service that generates web development and design tutorials.

“48-Hour Launch gave us unique insight to the startup process. Throughout the weekend we had the opportunity to meet with various investors, entrepreneurs and other professionals who spent the time to help us revise our pitch,” Scipioni said.

“Watching other groups pitch their ideas also was an invaluable experience. We learned what types of ideas are feasible and what investors look for in pitches, among other things,” he said.

Rosen, Scipioni and Moynahan pitched Era of Man, an online retailer of skin and body products for men.

Gifbox, an online platform that allows users to create gift baskets of both digital and actual items, claimed the third place prize for Zhang, who plans to move Gifbox to the market.

“The event was extremely helpful. There were MBA students, Owen professors, local entrepreneurs, investment bankers, programmers and others helping us all weekend,” Zhang said.

“After the event, Clayton Associates connected me with another local startup to help with the effort. We’ll roll out a beta version within the next few months,” Zhang said. Clayton Associates is a Nashville-based source of equity capital for early-stage companies in the Southeast.

“We’ll most likely work with another tech startup to get the service out, but the core team is Vanderbilt students,” said Zhang, who is adding at least two computer science students to the team.

The Era of Man trio plan to move forward with their idea, too. “We have made significant progress in the past two months, and we are now looking for investors so we can finalize some administrative details, create our website, stock inventory and launch,” Scipioni said.

48 Hour Launch was created in 2011 by Startup Tennessee. Launch competitions also have been held in Memphis, Chattanooga and Knoxville.