ASU Spark Tank 2016 by Kimberly Roland

‘Create value by solving real problems.’ This was a major takeaway from @SpeakerJeff, aka Jeff Hoffman, cofounder of Priceline, serial entrepreneur, and Arizona native at Thursday night’s #ASUSparkTank. The crowd at Galvin Playhouse in Tempe (“The Tank” for the night) was enthralled in Jeff’s speech; his experience coupled with his humor kept the full house engaged and entertained as the end of a four hour event drew near. The anxiety in the room was palpable as Jeff wrapped up his speech and the W.P. Carey Center for Entrepreneurship staff and Sun Devil Igniter Board (“The Sharks” for the night) returned to the stage.

The second fever pitch moment of the night arrived as an ASU student entrepreneur team was about to be awarded a $50,000 investment after months of preparation, planning, and pitching their venture as part of the Sun Devil Igniter Challenge. Just two hours earlier the same moment of anxiety and excitement swept through the audience as All Walks Project was selected as the winner of the Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge, a $20,000 investment, and scholarship from SeedSpot. It was like déjà vu in the best possible way.

Photo credit Pete Zrioka, 2016.

All freshman team, dropspot, presenting to judges. Photo credit Pete Zrioka, 2016.

After deliberation and some brief remarks, the judges narrowed down the Sun Devil Igniter finalists from three ventures to two, and the cheers from the crowd grew. The moment the winners, LetsChat, were announced, the balcony of Galvin Playhouse exploded in a symphony of cheers, chants, and screams. If I hadn’t known otherwise, I’d have thought I was at a concert, and the headliners were coming out for their encore performance. What made the moment so special was that aside from, perhaps, graduation, this was a moment when ASU students, alumni, faculty, staff, family, and friends all converged in one place to listen to, support, and cheer for six teams of outstanding, innovative, passionate, and committed students. This fanatical exuberance is what makes ASU THE place for aspiring entrepreneurs.

In addition to the thrill of All Walks Project and LetsChat winning, there were also several notable surprises at Spark Tank too! In the first round (Pakis Social Entrepreneurship Challenge) both runners up were awarded SeedSpot scholarships AND granted $10,000 investments, and in the second round (Sun Devil Igniter Challenge) the runner up also received a surprise $10,000 investment with the opportunity to receive up to $50,000 over time. The common theme of the evening was summarized by Jeff in his remarks: value creation through problem solving. Each of the six teams who pitched had identified a real problem in their life, community, and/or world and rather than sitting by idly, each team decided to take action through entrepreneurship.  After watching the amazingly polished pitches last night, there is no doubt in my mind these teams are ready to go from Spark Tank to Shark Tank.

PS: Did #ASUSparkTank inspire you? Intrigue you? Motivate you? All you need to do is #JustStart. Click here to learn more about Launch Days & Open Pitch Nights on a campus near you. (Fun fact: 5 of the 6 teams at #ASUSparkTank cut their teeth at an Open Pitch night. You’re next!)

Kimberly Roland is the Manager of Partner Relations at the Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Arizona State University.

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