Make the ‘Grand Pitch’ | News, Sports, Jobs


They are the finalists in this year’s Big Pitch competition at Northern Michigan University. Left to right are Jim Callahan, Grace DeNoya, Donald McKaba and Patrick Gutierrez. (Diary photo by Christie Matric)

MARQUETTE — It’s not too early for some students at Northern Michigan University to think about sustainable food containers, a gluten-free bakery, indoor golf and a cannabinoid-supplemented gym.

Four NMU students competed in Thursday night’s competition finals for the NMU New Business Venture Competition ” Big field “. It took place at the Forest Roberts Theater on campus, where students pitched their business ideas to a panel of judges for a chance to win thousands of dollars to get their businesses off the ground.

Donald McKaba with the company Wasteless won the Big Pitch event and $1,500. Grace DeNoya, whose business was her You’d Never Know bakery, won $5,000 for Best Business Plan and $1,500 each for Trade Show and People’s Favorite.

The other finalists were Jim Callahan, who proposed JC Indoor Golf, and Patrick Gutierrez, who proposed a boutique gym called Ixchel.

The event is designed to stimulate entrepreneurial activity among students by recognizing and rewarding students who present detailed plans on designing and creating new business ventures.

The competition allowed students to pitch their new ventures to investors, receive feedback, answer questions from on-site judges, and apply classroom learning to real-world projects. Business plans had to show that businesses will be financially profitable, legal and create new jobs.

McKaba said Wasteless is a “innovative shopping experience” this would reduce overall waste by eliminating some of what ends up in landfills.

Waste-free, he said, involves the use of oak barrels and other types of reusable containers, which customers would rent through memberships. Customers can save money by purchasing products such as spices and salts in bulk at low cost and refilling the reusable container with the bulk product. This allows savings possibilities, as there would be no individual packaging costs.

“The average annual cost for an American in a grocery store is around $4,000,” said McKaba, who noted that with the climate change crisis, many consumers are ready to change their buying habits.

He also studied his potential clientele.

“I try to understand what my clients will look like and what their needs are”, McKaba said.

DeNoya talked about her 100% gluten-free bakery called You’d Never Know, which would start at her home, then move to Marquette Farmers Market, followed by a brick-and-mortar location.

E-commerce, social media and word of mouth, she said, would be used to market her business.

DeNoya pointed out that many gluten-free products leave something to be desired.

“The stuff that’s over there isn’t very pretty,” said DeNoya.

Along with its bakery, its setup would ensure no cross-contamination would affect its ingredients, DeNoya said.

Callahan called his indoor golf proposal a “Golf Industry Anytime Fitness.”

“My idea is an indoor golf simulator that would be open 24 hours a day”, he said. “Membership would be the primary means of doing business.”

The business, he said, would offer flexibility and independence and would be geared towards people wanting to improve their golf game, as opposed to just entertainment.

Growing up as a serious golf player, he recognized that training in the winter was difficult.

“You have to get those hours if you want to improve”, Callahan said.

The gymnasium at Gutierrez’s Ixchel shop reportedly has Mayan-themed decor and involves the use of THCV, a cannabis ingredient found in low levels.

He also said that research has indicated that the combination of THCV use and exercise could be a “revolutionary” way to fight obesity.

However, Gutierrez pointed out that since THCV is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration, he could not market it as a weight loss supplement.

Gutierrez said he would market his gym to the Latino demographic and include time for clients to visit before class, given that it takes about 30 minutes for THCV to activate.

“Furniture will be provided to promote the social scene”, Gutierrez said.

The judges for the Big Pitch competition were Joe Thiel, CEO of Innovate Marquette and Executive Director of [email protected]; Vince Nystrom, partner at Renaissance Venture Capital Fund; Ed Kim, CPD, MTRAC Innovation Center for Advanced Computing Technologies; Denise Graves, Director of University Relations, Michigan Economic Development Corporation; and MJ Cartwright, Statewide Innovations Mentor, University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships Team.

A trade show and Business After Hours event took place before the Big Pitch. The Business After Hours event, which created networking opportunities with local businesses, was followed by the Mini Pitch Competition, a more informal contest where teams or individuals could pitch their ideas to a panel of judges to race the chance to win a cash prize.

Carol Johnson, dean of the NMU College of Business, told the Big Pitch finalists, “You are part of a one-of-a-kind group”, she said, pointing out that they were chosen to enter Thursday’s competition out of 40 entrants.

After his victory, McKaba said, “I was so grateful to have entered the competition.”

Christie Mastric can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. His email address is [email protected]

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