Tensions ran high as eight college kids mentally rehearsed their pitches before it was their turn to present to a group of judges at South By Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas.
The students were competing in SXSW’s third annual Student Startup Madness competition. The event, set up like the March Madness basketball tournament, had whittled down a list of hundreds of collegiate companies through regional competitions until only the top eight remained. Those companies came to Austin.
“They all looked like deer in headlights when we first got there,” Sean Branagan, creator of the event, told Business Insider. “On stage, they all did amazing.”
Branagan, director of the Center for Digital Media Entrepreneurship at Syracuse University, started the Student Startup Madness program to highlight outstanding university entrepreneurship programs and encourage college students to start businesses.
“College kids should be starting companies because they have less to lose,” he says. “They’re scrappy, and can live on a couch, and eat ramen noodles, which is what a lot of these startup founders have to do. Even if a company fails, the kids got that experience. College is a great time to take that risk.”
The panel of judges — which included Brian Cohen of New York Angels and Sandy Khaund of Turner Broadcasting — judged the students’ companies on the potential size of the market addressed, the strength of the team, and the traction the company already has. The three winning companies — Find My Song, an online collaborative music platform; StylePuzzle, an app for picking out outfits based on the user’s clothing; and Notefuly, a note-taking app — each recieved $US50,000 of credits for Google’s cloud platform. All three company CEOs told Business Insider that pitching onstage in front of judges at one of the biggest tech hubs of the year was an amazing experience.
Find My Song CEO Vince Fong told Business Insider via email that the competition taught him how to think through all the potential weaknesses of a product so that you’re more ready to address people challenging the business model.
“The biggest impact will come from the connections we made while being here,” Taseen Peterson, co-founder of Notefuly, told Business Insider via email. “It’s all about the intangibles.”