WeCook, a new tech company that brings personal chefs into people’s homes to stock their refrigerators with meals for a low subscription fee, was the big winner in the Feb. 16 Pitch Dingman Competition. The first-place win came with a $15,000 prize that the startup plans to use for marketing.
WeCook founder Ryan Pillai was one of five finalist entrepreneurs to pitch judges and an audience of more than 200 students, business leaders, faculty, staff and guests at the event held at the University of Maryland’s Stamp Student Union. The Pitch Dingman Competition is the University of Maryland’s only business competition exclusively for Terps, hosted by the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.
Placing second and winning a prize of $5,000 was ICOW, a web app to simplify the higher-ed application process for international students. The other three competitors tied for third place, each taking home $2,000 in funding: Embitterment, a cocktail bitters company; Uboard, a customizable headboard company for dorm room beds; and VentureStorm, a web platform connecting entrepreneurs and student developers.
The competition was made possible, in part, by a generous gift from alumnus David Quattrone, co-founder and chief technology officer of Cvent, a top online event software and email marketing company.
“Events like this really encourage and support young entrepreneurs to help move things forward,” said Quattrone in remarks to the audience before the finalists took the stage. “Without question in my mind, entrepreneurship is really the engine for growth and a catalyst for innovation in this country.”
Each finalist had six minutes to pitch his or her business to the judges, including an overview of their business model and how he or she’d use the prize money. Then they had four minutes to field questions from the judges. Prior to the on-stage pitches, each team met with the judges for about 10 minutes.
Along with Quattrone, judges included David Burd, general manager of Uber; Paul Capriolo, CEO of Social Growth Technologies Inc.; Malcolm Gillian, managing partner of Syndicate Group NYC; Jennifer Meyer, CEO of Betamore; Carmen Mirabile, assistant vice president of marketing at SECU; and Greg Vetter, CEO of Tessemae's All Natural.
While judges deliberated behind closed doors, audience members texted their pick for best pitch for the $500 Audience Choice Award, clinched by Uboard.
WeCook won a $1,000 award, the Kimberly Marie Scholastic Achievement Award, sponsored by a group of students who wanted to show appreciation for the positive experience they had with the Pitch Dingman program.
Each of the five finalists also accepted $500 in seed funding from event sponsor SECU (State Employees Credit Union).
The finalists had been preparing since advancing from the semifinal round of the competition, held in December 2015 when 10 founders pitched their startups.
Elana Fine, managing director of the Dingman Center, is hoping the Pitch Dingman event will inspire the hundreds of students who were sitting in the audience to utilize Dingman Center resources to start ventures. She said she’s grateful that Quattrone’s gift will ensure the future of the competition for years to come.
“There is lot of momentum on campus around fearless ideas and the Pitch Dingman Competition is the next part of that – how fearless ideas turn into profitable, sustainable ventures,” said Fine.