Pitch It to Me

In an American Idol spin-off, fledgling entrepreneurs sell alumni judges on business proposals.

By Mary Jo Patterson

Imagine it’s late at night, and you’ve got a craving. Not for pizza, and certainly not for a greasy burger and fries. So you go to “Good or Great,” a new drive-through and sit-down restaurant where the chef uses only locally grown food and makes everything from scratch.

“A place where you can get a salad or sandwich. Something like Mom would make you at home,” says business studies major Emma Grossman C’11, who dreamed up the place for the “Business Idol” competition in Professor Jennifer Kohn’s management class. One evening last December, she and 21 other students in business attire used PowerPoint presentations to illustrate management strategies for imagined businesses ranging from a newfangled dating service to a pro soccer team.

While no one went home with venture capital, the students’ jobs were to make successful business pitches. The judges, Drew alums, were a formidable bunch. “It wasn’t just anyone up there,” said Kohn, assistant professor of economics and business studies. “They were people who knew your business.”

Contestants were nervous, even though the judges would not make any cuts or name a winner. Vanessa Van Brunt C’92, senior vice president at Wells Fargo, said the students did well, but got a dose of reality: “They learned that anyone investing in a bus­iness is going to ask, ‘How are you different from everyone else? How will you make money?’”

Donna Milza C’03, owner of Euro­pean Elegance Boutique in Madison, N.J., said she worried her feedback might have discouraged a future Oprah Winfrey or Bill Gates. But during a mixer after the event, she said, “The student I was concerned about came up to me and said, ‘Can you elaborate?’ We had a really good discussion.”

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