Shark Tank, Drew Style

Students pitch investment and product ideas to tough judges.

May 2018 –Rob Paniti and Chatham Studer outlined the “risk averse” decisions they made managing Drew’s student-run investment portfolio, The Fund, and veteran financial advisor Michael Ravensbergen C’80 wasn’t having it. “I heard you say several times that you want to take the risk out of it. What I hear is you want to take the return out of it,” he said animatedly. “What’s your benchmark? What are you trying to beat?”

Ravensbergen was one of three alumni critiquing the students’ pitch during the business department’s annual Shark Tank event, named for the popular television show where business titans grill would-be entrepreneurs.

“It forces them to prepare, to anticipate and work collaboratively to develop a final product through which they can gain pride and confidence,” said Marc Tomljanovich, chair of the Economics and Business Department. “In talks with Drew graduates, they remember it as one of the most useful academic parts of their time here.”

Paniti C’20 said the tough feedback helped. “It was worth it. Clearly we learned we’re lacking in some structures,” he said after he and Studer C’19 were queried by Ravensbergen of Merrill Lynch, Jeffrey Noss C’75 of BNY Mellon and RJ Voorman C’14 of Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

The panel was among six offering feedback on pitches made by 100 business students at Brothers College on a Friday night.

There were marketing pitches for a chopstick holder and a Korean dice game, a technology pitch for course registration and tuition management systems and presentations on how non-profit groups could improve. Beyond alumni, judges included Madison municipal officials and business and non-profit executives.

Xiping Wei C’19 was part of a team of four students that pitched ideas on improving alumni outreach and career services. In their research, Wei surveyed students from abroad while Nilab Nusrat C’18 compared Drew’s efforts to other schools’ and Iliana Mendez C’19 applied the Forbes Grateful Graduates Index. Bette Smith-Dozier C’18, meanwhile, presented on Brexit after a 10-day Drew London ShortTrec and said the exercise helped clarify her thoughts.

Some panels were more genteel than others: students who’d completed a New York Semester on Social Entrepreneurship finished presentations before panelists suggested mild improvement. Not so for the finance panel, which dished out a dollop of Wall Street attitude—interrupting with questions and directing the students to be more precise. “We try to give them a real feel,” said Ravensbergen. “We try to make them uncomfortable, throw them off their game. That’s what happens in reality.”

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