November 07, 2011 | Myrna Anderson

Kim VandenAkker, the winner of this year's Elevator Pitch, recently won the regional Idea Pitch.

At Calvin’s 2011 Elevator Pitch, held Wednesday, Oct. 19, senior Kim VandenAkker pitched first. “I got to sit and listen to all the others,” she said. Vanden Akker won the $1000 top prize and moved on to the 2011 Regional Idea Pitch Competition held Thursday, Nov. 3 at Davenport University, where she pitched 13th out of the 14 contestants.

“We all had to sit in a room outside the auditorium because we couldn’t hear anyone who went before us,” she said. “I was in there going on an-hour-and-a- half.” Then she pitched for 90 seconds—approximately the time it would take her to sell the idea during an elevator ride. Once again, she won the top prize, this time $1500.

“It was very affirming,” said VandenAkker, a senior with majors in both international development and Spanish and a minor in business. Her winning idea was a nonprofit job-shadowing website for middle and high schools, and she competed against students from Aquinas, Calvin, Hope and Davenport colleges, Grand Rapids Community College, and Cornerstone and Grand Valley State universities. The event was sponsored by the West Michigan Colleges and Universities Group (WMCUG).

Well presented

“She was very articulate. Secondly, her poise was outstanding, and her idea was complete; it was well thought out. And she responded to a very legitimate need,” said Calvin business professor Bob Medema. “She conceived of a good idea, and she presented it very, very well.”

Joining VandenAkker in the winners’ circle were Grand Valley State University student Miles Smith, who pitched a fishing lure that wouldn’t get snagged, and Davenport student Chad Ouellette, who proposed a hockey shirt whose arms didn’t ride up.

“I don’t know how much better my idea was than the other ones, but a lot of the feedback I got was about how I presented it,” VandenAkker said. “That told me a lot about the importance of how you present yourself.”

She appreciated both the help she got beforehand from Medema (“I provide a lot of encouragement and some coaching, but the students do all the work,” he demurred) and the critique she got from the judges: Amanda Chocko, program director of Momentum, Fred Keller, chairman of Cascade Engineering, and Joe Ponstein, senior manager with Ernst & Young LLP. “They just drilled us with questions, which was good because it prepares us,” she said.

Two contests

The Regional Idea Pitch Competition is one of two entrepreneurial contests sponsored by the WMCUG; the other, BizPlan, is held in the spring. VandenAkker’s double win continues a tradition for Calvin that began last year when business major Kelly LeCoy won both the Calvin and the regional editions of BizPlan.

Medema believes that contests like Idea (Elevator) Pitch and BizPlan are essential for students graduating into the current marketplace. “Our economy, statewide, nationwide, will need a great deal of innovative and creative thinking,” he said. “What we’re doing is we’re providing an opportunity for students to engage in creative, innovative thinking and to speak out.”

The competitions are not only for business majors, Medema emphasized: “This is something that’s available to students of all majors. I would like to see students of all majors become involved.”

VandenAkker graduates Calvin in December, and then she’s off to Ghana. Her winnings will help to pay the way. Beyond that, she’s not sure, though she might someday develop that job-shadowing website. “I’ll keep it in the back of my mind for the future,” she said.

Kim VandenAkker

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