Students put their business ideas to the test (copy)

Laila Derakhshanian presents her business plan for cyclist clothing brand Alt Kit to a panel of judges in the Robert B. Moore Theatre in the spring. She was the "Most Innovative Business Idea" winner for the 2019 Pirate's Plank.

The Pirate’s Plank, a business pitch competition for student entrepreneurs, is coming to Orange Coast College in early April for the fourth year in a row.

During the event student entrepreneurs will pitch an original idea to a panel of local business leaders in hopes of landing a mentorship and cash prize. The structure of the competition is similar to the television show “Shark Tank” but with an emphasis on providing an encouraging environment.

Abby Diaz, a business administration major and Pirate’s Plank “Most Likely to Succeed” winner of 2019, said the competition was a challenge.

“The actual presentation was the most challenging, beating the nerves and talking to people,” Diaz said.

Diaz said she had just started her own business around the Pirate’s Plank application period and had heard about it through one of her professors in class. Her award winning business idea was what she described as an app where customers design a shirt and get paired with a local shop that will produce it. Once it is finished, Uber or Lyft drivers will deliver the finished product to the customer.

Diaz will transfer to Cal State Fullerton in the spring and said the Pirate’s Plank experience gave her a lot of insight and awareness on business planning.

Applicants for the competition apply in the fall and then seven students are chosen to present their ideas for judging in the spring. Applicants are selected by professors from different divisions, according to the competition’s website.

Leading up to the competition, workshops are conducted in the spring to help with research and presentation skills. Students will also be given the chance to meet previous winners.

The judges offer helpful feedback to the applicants and decide on two winners to receive $500 and a one-on-one consultation with Cora Volkoff, digital media expert, and art and design professor.

“People have a lot of ideas but they don’t know where to start. When you start up you don’t have money,” Volkoff said.

Student veterans of the competition say it was an amazing step in their planning.

“It was an awesome experience, trying to create a business plan and sharing the idea with successful business men and women,” Laila Derakhshanian, a photography major and Pirate’s Plank “Most Innovative Business Idea” winner of 2019 said.

Derakhshanian said she originally pitched her idea in Mark Grooms’ business class and wanted to see what feedback she could get from presenting her plan.

Business instructor Grooms founded the Pirate’s Plank. Before he came to OCC in 2005, Grooms taught at Las Positas College where someone started a similar competition. Grooms organized it the last year he worked there.

Grooms said Pirate’s Plank is a way for students to express themselves and present their ideas to experts in the community. He added it’s also to encourage students and inspire them to start their businesses.

“You have to have grit. You have to work through hard times. When things go wrong, can you pick yourself up,” Grooms said.

Grooms explained he has learned success doesn’t come overnight and there is boring and tedious stuff to do to get to your end goal.

Ayden Auer, 22, an organizational communications major, was Pirate’s Plank “Most Innovative” winner of 2018 for his device for smokers. Auer said his idea, called E-Chop, would be a modified bowl piece for a bong with an added compartment for your E-cigarette.

According to Auer, Grooms was helpful with the process.

“There’s lots of resources out there if you just ask people questions, they’ll be willing to help,” Auer said.

Auer said the prize of $500 motivated him to apply. He said the experience of presenting was fun and students get comfortable with putting themselves out there.

The 2020 Pirate’s Plank competition will take place in the Robert B. Moore Theatre on April 2. The competition will also be available for viewing via a live-stream.

Tiffany Gil, a 21-year-old business major, was Pirate’s Plank “Most Likely to Succeed” winner of 2018 for her pitch of DocSocks, a sock with an extra protective layer to prevent foot blisters. Gil said the competition pushed her to be confident.

Gil now attends San Diego State University and is part of three entrepreneurship programs on campus. She added she’s been in other business competitions since the Pirate’s Plank.

“I would encourage a student to apply. You’re going to have to be pitching yourself your entire life. It’s scary but the end result is worth it,” Gil said.

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