Teaching USD Entrepreneurs How to Translate Ideas into Ventures Sometimes Means Throwing Them Into the Deep End.

AJ Agrawal ’13 and fellow Torero Eghosa Aihie, dove head first into USD’s version of the “Shark Tank,” the television show that gives inventors the chance to pitch their business ideas to self-made tycoons who, if they take the bait, can transform the next big idea into the next big thing.

The duo won $40,000 in USD’s business pitch competition and used it to launch Alumnify, an app that — with just a swipe — helps alumni connect, network and land jobs.

Professor Michael Lawless, PhD, who leads entrepreneurship initiatives at the University of San Diego’s School of Business Administration, established the V2 Pitch Competition in 2011. He runs the competition with Regina Bernal ’12 and says, in three years, it’s tripled in size and has become a bi-national program that involves students, businesses, universities, government agencies and incubators from Mexico.

“The idea was based on research that business plan competitions are over-emphasized by business schools and under-used by businesses,” explains Dr. Lawless, who says investors’ seed money has grown from $15,000 to $50,000.

The competition draws 75 student participants from both countries. The yearlong program often starts with a bootcamp by Lawless on how to create a compelling pitch deck and continues with coaching sessions between students and alumni. It ends in April before an audience of 300 at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice theatre. Four finalists from USD pitch to three U.S. investors and the top four students from Mexico pitch to three investors from their country.

“The finalists have 10 slides in their pitch deck and seven minutes to pitch their ideas, followed by a 10-minute meeting with the investors,” Lawless says. “This is education meeting the real world and, in the real world, innovation doesn’t stop at the border.