C.E.O. (the Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization) just completed a steller conference in Tampa FL with about 1,000 students from around the U. S. participating. They were not disappointed with excellent pitches for new products and services, nationally recognized speakers, and a side trip to the beautiful Lowth Center for Entrepreneurship at the nearby University of Tampa.
One such Keynoter was Kyle Taylor CEO of super fast-growing startup Penny Hoarder based in St. Petersburg FL. His rapidly growing firm is in danger of running out of desk space, even after moving into its new 23,000-square-foot headquarters last fall. So Taylor often lets desk-less employees use his office. “Learn how to breathe, or you’ll never finish each day,” says Taylor, 31, when asked about the pressures of leading a company that experienced revenue growth of 9,396% between 2013 and 2016. That rampant growth continues, with sales increasing by 80%, from $20.48 million in 2016 to $37 million last year. The source of those sales is branded content that reaches between 12 million and 17 million per readers per month, including 5 million fans of the Penny Hoarder Facebook page. Some of its big-name advertising clients include Uber, Lyft and Sam’s Club. The company also brings in revenue by creating advertising campaigns that encourage readers to sign up for a client’s email newsletter, download a client’s app or register for a client’s service.
In addition to Tyler, the other notables included Geogg Hyanes, President of Ra Power Pro, Jules Pieri, Founder of Grommet, Thad Tarkington, CEO of Second Nature and former C.E.O. student, Tony DiBenedetto, Founder of TriBridge. Steve Sheetz, Chairman of Sheetz, and Dan Soviero, CEO of Signature Lacrosse. These latter two speakers capped the conference with stories of their journeys. Sheetz built the family Sheetz, Inc., a chain of 600 convenience stores based in Altoona, PA while Soviero built his NCCA client business from his college dorm room at the University of Tampa. Today his company serves over 1,500 clients with over 6 million balls sold around the world in just three years with annual revenues tracking towards $3 Million.
Some of the useful breakout session dealt with social media, failure as a pre-requisite, mentoring, better marketing, scaling video productions, selling for entrepreneurs, how to embrace technology, building a business by coding, understanding accounting, financial know-how, getting to a VC yes, balancing relationships and a startup, blockchain, creating and seizing opportunities, and crafting the perfect pitch. There were a total of 50 subject-matter experts on a variety of business-related topics.
One of the highlights of the conference is the CEO Global Pitch Competition, where 80 student entrepreneurs had 90 seconds to pitch their startup business ideas to a panel of judges for a chance to win part of $15,000 in prize money. A sample of this year’s pitch competition include:
- “Yard Service in a Box” — a “one-stop shop” style package designed to help teenagers start their own yard-service business.
- “Birthday Candles for Kids” — a nonprofit that throws fully personalized birthday parties for homeless, fostered and orphaned children.
- “Verapy” — redefines physical and occupational therapy through virtual reality games, resulting in better patient outcomes.
- “Soundless Sleep” — a noise-cancelling pillow for anyone who struggles to fall asleep with loud background noise.
- “Click: Assistive Technology” — a tool designed to assist blind or otherwise visually impaired individuals safely check the level of liquid in a container.
Pitches were woven throughout the conference with competition for best chapter, best student entrepreneur, best chapter advisor, best cross campus innovation, and grand pitch winner.
A real special side trip was offered the final night to visit the state-of-the-art Lowth Entrepreneurship Center at the University of Tampa. Department Chair, Dr. Rebecca White, whose leadership garnered the 2014 Outstanding Emerging Entrepreneurship program in the country by USASBE, hosted. Guest toured the center’s auditorium, common spaces, conference rooms, and reference library. The Center has graduated some extraordinary entrepreneurs like James Zebrowski, current C. E. O. director and the above mentioned Soviero.
2019 was a memorable experience for all who attended the Collegiate Entrepreneurship Organization Conference.