SwatTank, The College’s First Business Competition

Swarthmore students who wish to turn their business ideas into reality will soon be able to. Divided into three phases, each containing business seminars and a round of selection, SwatTank, the first business-plan competition at Swarthmore, will provide students with a platform and guidance from alumni to transform their innovative thoughts into well-formed business plans.

The application of the competition, which is currently available online and will open to students till December 8, asks candidates to describe their business ideas, the problems their businesses may solve and the potential solutions. The applicants also need to show the financial feasibility and sustainability of their plans and persuade judges why they should invest in the projects.

The first webinar on idea generation and team building, open to all students on campus, will be held on December 1 and will be led by Cathy Polinsky ’99, senior director of software development at SalesForce, and Chuck Groom ’00, head of engineering for SurveyMonkey’s Seattle office. Aiming to provide teams with resources to enable them to fully formulate their ideas, the first phase of the contest will have alumni judges selecting 10 teams based on the viability and quality of ideas.

These 10 teams will go on to the second phase of the competition. During this process, each of them will form their business plans with the help of an alum mentor. After hearing seminars on financing and sustaining a startup, creating a business plan and networking, each team will submit their plans at the end of this period and four teams will get into the final round of the competition.

The final phase is scheduled on March 23, 2013, the last day of the Lax Conference for Entrepreneurship. The teams will pitch their ideas to possible partners and investors in up to five minutes and will answer judges’ questions afterwards. The winner will be awarded a prize of $500 to $1500, depending on the team’s size. One person team will be awarded $500, two-person team $1000 and teams with three or more $1500.

The structure of SwatTank got its inspiration from the various forms of different competitions in both large universities and liberal arts schools. “We ultimately merged them into a competition that best suited Swarthmore,” Aldo Frosinini ’15, Co-President of the club, said.

“Swarthmore students will finally have a vehicle for developing winning business plans and funding their ideas earlier on in their career,” said Lisandra Lamboy ’03, a National Urban Fellow serving as Special Assistant to the Director of the Houston Department of Health and Human Services. Lamboy came up with the idea of having such a business competition and believes that entrepreneurs at Swarthmore will develop social enterprises that can greatly contribute to the Swarthmore community and beyond if given proper support and platform.

Antony Kaguara ’15, a member of the Entrepreneurship Club, agrees with Lamboy. “If students can understand from an early stage how to develop their ideas, they can be the dynamic business leaders of tomorrow,” he said. “Entrepreneurship is going to define the workforce in the future.”

Kaguara met Lamboy during last year’s Lax Conference, where he first learned of her competition idea. After talking to Career Services staff, the club was told that the office was also thinking about organizing a similar event. Co-sponsored by the Career Services Office, the Dean’s Office, the President’s Office, the Center for Innovation & Leadership, the Lax Conference for Entrepreneurship and the Entrepreneurship Club, SwatTank will be more than just a competition. “We have designed it to be beneficial, win or loss,” said Marisa Lopez ’15, co-president of the Entrepreneurship Club.

“Students who participate in SwatTank will finish with more networking experience, improved communication skills, and the knowledge of how to be a better team player,” Lopez said.

Lopez does not see a strong enough awareness in the college about the benefits of entrepreneurship. “Being an entrepreneur is not just starting a company or coming up with some new design, it is a way of thinking,” she said. She appreciates “intrapreneurship,” which refers to behaving as an entrepreneur within an existing company, and hopes to learn how to think like an entrepreneur.

SwatTank will be holding an information session tonight at 8 pm in Science Center 199.

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