Next Big Idea Finalists Will Make a Pitch for $5,000 Grand Prize

April 28, 2020
By: Guest Contributor

The six finalists in the Robert K. O’Brien ’58 Next Big Idea Contest will give their final pitches to a panel of judges on Thursday, April 30, at 4 p.m. through a live Zoom conference call, with the chance to win up to $5,000 in prize money. The general public can listen in to the presentations by registering at

The semester-long project attracted 28 entries into a “Shark Tank”-type business plan pitch contest. A panel of four judges evaluated and provided feedback on all entries and narrowed the finalists down to six:

  • Payton Collins will present his idea for Coco, a clothing and lifestyle brand;
  • Laura Martinez will pitch her plan for culturally relevant financial literacy education for college students;
  • Olivia Antonelli will explain Simply Green Vending, eco-friendly laundry detergent dispensers;
  • Jake Elbirt, will present SymbiGrow, his idea for hydroponic farming;
  • Lenny Tran will pitch The Pablo Way, a shoe restoration services; and
  • Evan Sterling and Josh Reinstein, will present VoDaily, a voice-powered daily planner for students.

“The judges were very impressed with all the thoughtful submissions,” says Director of Entrepreneurship Elaine Vescio. “This was a very competitive field, and all the submissions have merit and are worthy of pursuing further. We look forward to hearing the presentations of our finalists.”

Each finalist must submit a 60- to 90-second video about his or her idea. For the final presentation, they will be required to make a three-minute pitch, and then respond to a five-minute question-and-answer session by the judges: John Esler, founder of Esler Companies; Craig Bovaird ’77, founder of Built-Rite Tool & Die/Reliance Engineering and member of the Worcester State Foundation Board; and Brenden O’Brien, son of contest founder Robert K. O’Brien ’58. Steve Dorval, Worcester State’s Entrepreneur in Residence for the spring semester, will be moderating.

This is the seventh year of the competition, which was created as a way to inspire students to start entrepreneurial ventures and promote inventiveness. Prize money has been dramatically increased this year, thanks in part to a gift from Esler, combined with a grant from Santander Universities. The winning team will receive $5,000, second place $2,500, and third place $1,000.

Winners will be announced by the end of the day on Friday, May 1.

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