JGSEO’s Rousing Second Annual Owl Tank Competition Builds Momentum

On Wednesday, May 1, 2013, the Jones Graduate School Entrepreneur Organization (JGSEO) at Rice University held its second annual Owl Tank Competition. Inspired by the popular television show Shark Tank, Owl Tank offers competitors the valuable opportunity to pitch their business plans to a panel of successful Houston-area business leaders and venture capitalists who serve as judges.

This year, 11 teams, each with a “small idea that doesn’t require a patent or millions of dollars in funding,” competed for the top spots by distilling their idea into a six-minute pitch compelling enough to gain the judges’ interest and enthusiasm. After the pitch, the judges provided valuable feedback, often volleying pointed questions to team members about the viability, sustainability and originality of their plan.

The competition began rousingly, when Michael Tatz ’14, team member for Patriot Family Housing, began calling cadence and jogging military-style across the expanse of Anderson Family Commons. The following teams kept up the energy of the competition, which lasted nearly two hours.

The Winners

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Third prize winners, Paul Lumpkins ’14 and Cameron Hatch ’14, gave the pitch for Modern Hunting, a hunting service conceptualized in one of the students’ MBA classes. According to Lumpkins, the need to compress their pitch into six minutes, “forced us to really think about the essential product story that we were trying to tell and convey our idea in a more succinct manner.” The essential challenge, he says, “is figuring out how to quickly sell your idea to someone who might not have any background in your industry.”

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Second place winner Craig Ceccanti ’08 pitched Tee’d Off, an entertainment-focused restaurant and bar concept in which patrons can play rounds of golf on some of the world’s most famous golf courses via simulated golf hubs. According to Ceccanti, whose pitch netted his business idea $1,750 in addition to in-kind gifts, “The most challenging thing about Owl Tank was preparing for questions from sophisticated investors. Learning to speak their language and understand what is truly important to them is incredibly useful in evolving our message for future investor presentations.” 

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First place winner Jeremy Chapman echoed the sentiments of Lumpkins and Ceccanti. He began his pitch for GMEX.com, a company that matches industrial metal sellers with buyers, by comparing it to Autotrader.com, a company and concept that investors and the general public are already quite familiar with. He said the competition challenged him to create a crisp presentation, portraying a business model that “covered every spoke of the wheel.” His successful pitch netted GMEX.com a whopping $11,250 and in-kind gifts that included $5,000 in branding and marketing strategy from BrandExtract. “We’re really hoping to use the winnings for sales and marketing help,” he says. “We want to be the loudest person in the room, so everyone knows we’re here.”

Owl Tank’s Future

“I received a great deal of feedback on the quality of the presentations and pitches, as well as involvement of judges in terms of tougher questions,” says JGSEO President Gene Brieck ’10, when describing the success of this year’s event. “More teams applied, more teams presented, and we more than doubled the prize money in total and gained more sponsors in general.”

The JGSEO hopes to keep the momentum going for next year’s Owl Tank, slated for spring 2014

— M. Yvonne Taylor