Pirate's Plank Awards recognize students' entrepreneurial spirit in virtual format

Pirate's Plank winning students Michelle Weston (top left) and Skye Meredith (top right) appear on the Zoom competition along with OCC Business Professor and event organizer Mark Grooms (top center). UC Berkeley and OCC graduate Valerie Ekko (middle left) appears along with judges Clint Lawrence, founder and CEO of JC Motors and MotorcycleShippers.com (middle center); Tony Wong, founder and president of AirKinetics (middle right); and Peggy Fort of California Marketing Concepts and an OCC Foundation board member (bottom center). 

Orange Coast College has hosted the Pirate’s Plank Awards for the past four years to encourage students to solve problems and inspire their own entrepreneurial careers. This year the event took place over Zoom with participants just as eager as ever to present. 

Mark Grooms, OCC business professor and organizer, said the event is similar to the ABC TV show “Shark Tank.” 

“It's very much like that show except our judges are not quite as brutal,” he said. “The idea here is to encourage our students and then press them a little and make them think.” 

Groom even had a dress rehearsal planned to help the students not be as intimidated by the platform on the virtual stage. 

The students were just a few weeks away from presenting their pitches in  the spring, when it is usually held, when COVID-19 put a damper in their plans. 

“First we were going to postpone it,” Grooms said, “then I didn't do anything and was thinking maybe we just cancel it and I got a student who emailed me and asked if we were still having it. Well, if they’re that interested enough to email me...” 

After that encounter, Grooms contacted all of the participants about continuing the event and set it up virtually.

The two-hour Pirate’s Plank Awards event included judges Peggy Fort of California Marketing Concepts and an OCC Foundation board member; Tony Wong, founder and president of AirKinetics; and Clint Lawrence, founder and CEO of JC Motors and MotorcycleShippers.com

Grooms said he was “really thrilled” that students went out of their way to contact him about the awards. This year's student participants were: Aaron Spann (Marketing), Angus Greene (Engineering), Jessica Chang (Fashion Design), Skye Meredith (Business Economics), and Michelle Weston (Business Economics). All participants received $100 and a T-shirt. 

The winners this year were Skye Meredith and Michelle Weston, who each received $500 for wowing the judges. 

Meredith won the award for Most Innovative Business Idea, Comfort Kitchen, which offers a dining experience from home using THC- and CBD- infused ingredients that are handpicked by experts to fit different health needs. All excess proceeds from her business would go to providing the same treatments free of cost for cancer patients. 

Weston won Most Likely to Succeed with her app “Weston Automotive,” which allows users to shop directly with participating auto dealerships’ inventories. 

The cash prizes will be handed out to the winners by OCC President Angelica Suarez and Lisa Knuppel on Dec. 11.

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