An Argentine exchange student from the College of Engineering and Computing will be receiving $1,000 after presenting the best innovative media business idea at the #PantherCage – a “Shark Tank”-style event hosted by the School of Journalism and Mass Communication on March 26.
Along with the $1,000 check, Jonathan Bursztyn also will receive round-trip tickets to San Francisco, where he will compete against the best student teams from colleges and universities around the world at the International Innovators Cup in August 2015. The winning team will be rewarded $5,000.
“This is all I’ve been working for, and it’s great to achieve it,” Bursztyn said. “It’s been four months of hard work – at least five days a week, five or six hours a day.”
His winning idea was a new messaging app, called “Board,” that he hopes will revolutionize the outdated user experience that, he says, is found on apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
“I think that there’s a blank space in the market nowadays, and I think that it’s important to fill it with a modern application that’s going to innovate in the field,” he said.
Bursztyn and three other student teams presented their ideas in front of four experienced panelists: W. Jeffrey Brown, angel investor and founder of Honey Tree Holdings; Pete De La Torre, host of “The Pete De La Torre Business Hour”; Ron Schnell, serial entrepreneur and director at the Berkeley Research Group; and Raul Reis, dean of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
Isis Duero’s team – which presented “District U.S.A.,” an educational app that would connect high school students with local, state and national election information – was the first to present at the #PantherCage.
“We had a lot of pressure because we didn’t know what the other ideas were that the other groups had and what products, pictures and videos they had. We were worried that we didn’t have enough things to show,” Duero said.
The second team presented an idea for an app, called “BFriendU,” that would connect travelers, newcomers and fun-seekers with other people who share similar interests – like “Tinder” for friends.
For Demetri Tertulien, a broadcast journalism student and a team member of “BFriendU,” it was his first time presenting in front of real investors, so he wasn’t prepared for their detailed inquiries.
“I guess I wasn’t expecting those types of questions,” Tertulien said. “Initially, coming into this, I wasn’t expecting it to be as serious as it was,” but “for people that are actually really interested in developing their apps … I think [they were] good questions to be asked.”
The third team presented “Campy,” a third-party, comment-hosting service that the team hoped would establish lively discussions on online student media stories – without the trolling.
Panelist W. Jeffrey Brown, who has heard thousands of pitches throughout his career, says that many great ideas and opportunities are coming out of the university environment.
“I’m maybe one of three or four active investors in the United States that are actually funding ‘big J journalism’ projects,” Brown said, “so anytime that I have the opportunity to look into something that may fall into the technology, news and journalism community, I will make time.”
Big J journalism is a term often used around the media industry in association with news projects completed by someone who understands the basic principles of reporting.
Brown asked most of the tough questions, but he says the teams shouldn’t have been shocked.
“I was told to treat [the team members] like I would treat any entrepreneur. If we do a better job of hardening you now, your businesses and your presentations, you’ll be more prepared to succeed later.”
Team selection for the #PantherCage first began on Nov. 15, 2014, during Start-Up Saturday, where students interested in participating in the competition pitched ideas to Alex de Carvalho, the Knight Innovator in Residence at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
– Pattrik Simmons