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 https://alumni.worcester.edu/rkoidea20 .
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.