November 03, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Three students captured top honors in the 2011 edition of Calvin's entrepreneurial contest Elevator Pitch.

The concept is to pitch a business idea in the amount of time it would take to pitch it on an elevator ride. The winner takes home a check for $1,000. The event is Elevator Pitch, sponsored by SoundOff Signal and presented by the Calvin Entrepreneurship Club.

For senior Kim VandenAkker, that big check was the main appeal of Elevator Pitch: “I thought, ‘That’s a really good chunk of money. A ninety-second pitch can’t be that hard,’” said the international development and Spanish major from Grand Rapids, “and then you realize—that’s all you have.”

VandenAkker made the most of her minute-and-a-half as she pitched an idea for a nonprofit job-shadowing website and won the competition, held Wednesday, Oct. 19, in the Prince Conference Center.

Elevator Pitch is the first of two contests held at Calvin every year to foster business innovation in students.  (The other is BizPlan, a collaboration of Calvin’s engineering and business departments and the Entrepreneurship Club, held this year on April 3.) Elevator pitch contestants faced three judges: Amy Ruis, owner of local kitchen and gourmet foods emporium Art of the Table, Michael Harris, director of Calvin’s Enterprise Center, and Andy DeVries, a Calvin regional gift officer.

Job-shadowing website

VandenAkker’s proposed website would feature job-shadowing opportunities for middle and high-school students at various companies and organizations in the Grand Rapids area. “Students could search the site first by industry, then by company names, then by specific names of individuals in those companies,” she said. “The idea isn’t that it would do everything for the student, but that it would make that initial connection easier.”

VandenAkker, who also minors in business, was thrilled to win Elevator Pitch on her rookie outing: “I don’t know if it was that my idea was so much better than other peoples’. I think it was partly about confidence,” she said. “Energy and enthusiasm: I realize that’s a huge part of these types of things.”

Two more prize-winning pitches came from junior mechanical engineering major Lake Chen—who took  second place and a $600 check for his idea for a blue-light alarm clock—and Jamaal Fridge, a junior business major and last year’s winner, who took third place and a $300 check with an idea for a video game with an evangelical theme.

Chen, an engineering major (with a mechanical concentration) who hails from Changsha City, China, said he first heard of the effect of blue light on the brain in his physics class. “The presence of blue light lessens the presence of melatonin in the bloodstream, making you feel less tired and more active,” he said. His proposed clock uses blue light technology to rouse sound sleepers. Chen figures the clock may even be able to help him wake up: he hits the alarm “three or four times on average every day.” Chen also won an extra $100 by nabbing the People’s Choice award.

An evangelical video game

Fridge appreciated the panel’s tough questions. The junior business major pitched “Life Force,” a modern-day adventure game with a Christian message: “Being examined by the judges helps you develop a critic’s mind, forcing you to thoroughly examine the things you want to share with others and why,” he said.

Fridge didn’t feel his performance was as good as last year’s. Plus, the competition was tough:  “The other contestants were very, very good, and I don't think even a fully revealed idea would have supplanted them,” he said. “Kim was needle-sharp, and it was great seeing Lake perform so well.

VandenAkker will next compete against students from Grand Valley State University, Hope College, Aquinas College, Cornerstone University, Davenport University and Grand Rapids Community College in the regional Elevator Pitch, held Nov. 3 at GVSU.

Then, in December, comes graduation. Then an internship in Ghana with Partners Worldwide. Then maybe grad school. “Until then, I’ll be honing in more specifically on what I’d like to do,” VandenAkker said. She not sure yet how she’ll spend the big check.

Kim Vanden Akker pitches

The audience

The judges

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