Budding entrepreneurs compete at Tepper Venture Challenge

Students who are interested in entrepreneurship dream of launching their businesses full-time. That dream just got a little bit closer for three student-run companies thanks to this year’s Tepper Venture Challenge, which was held yesterday in the Mellon Auditorium.

The Tepper Venture Challenge (TVC) is an annual competition that gives student start-up companies a chance to win up to $10,000 in prize money for their business proposals.

This year’s first prize went to senior business administration major Angie Salame for AbbyMe, a website that allows users to create and send phone messages over the Internet. Salame took home a check for $10,000, half of which is in the form of legal services from the law firm of Meyer, Unkovic and Scott, LLP.

Other winners were Chris Andrew and Greg Kroleski from Grove City College for Bare Apparel, and Carnegie Mellon’s Mark Tressler, Breck Fresen, and Geoff Misek for (

The TVC is hosted by the Undergraduate Entrepreneurship Association (UEA). The goal of the UEA is to foster the entrepreneurial spirit, said Anand Durvasula, a junior in economics and social and decision sciences and chair of the TVC.

The money that the students receive for winning projects is meant to be used for marketing, business planning, and product development.

The TVC benefits more than just the students themselves; it’s also good for the Pittsburgh area as a whole. Most of the funding is provided by SMC Business Councils, a trade association for small businesses in Pennsylvania.

“SMC has an interest in developing the newest businesses in the area, and $10,000 is a small price to pay for that,” Durvasula said.

The UEA accepts student proposals for the TVC from all over Pennsylvania, but most of them come from students in the Pittsburgh area. This year there were six competing teams from four universities: Carnegie Mellon, the University of Pittsburgh, Allegheny College, and Grove City College.

The applicant pool has been slowly growing in the eight years since the TVC’s inception, Durvasula said.

Although many of the companies represented were tech companies like MyMave and AbbyMe, other competitors included Cephas Stone Care, a business that would provide cleaning and sealing for household marble and granite, and Catch Delivery, which already operates, delivering food from restaurants in Meadville, Pa.

“We try to emphasize diversity,” Durvasula said.

One of the competition’s goals is to give student entrepreneurs the chance to present in front of potential investors, who give the students feedback on their presentations and responses to questions.

The competition’s faculty advisor is Arthur Boni, director of the Don Jones Center for Entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon. Boni emphasized the learning aspect of the challenge.

“This should be an educational process,” he told the assembled competitors during the awards ceremony. “Entrepreneurship is all about perseverance. Take our feedback and learn from whomever you can.”

One of the event’s judges was Tom Jones, a representative for venture capital firm BlueTree Capital Group, LLC.

“If you don’t win, don’t take it personally,” Jones told competitors. “Revise your proposals and come back again.”

The competitors seemed just as excited for the professional feedback as for the prize money.

“Advice from the judges was really great,” Kroleski said. “That kind of feedback is the best you can get.”

Kroleski took second prize as co-founder of Bare Apparel, a business that would print customizable and college-specific T-shirts.

Winners of the Tepper Venture Challenge have proven that hard work pays off. Tressler, a junior in business administration and co-founder of MyMave, said that their team works 20 to 30 hours a week in addition to classes.

“My friends don’t know what I look like anymore,” said Salame, who took home the first-place $10,000 check.

Salame just returned from winning second place in the University of San Francisco Business Plan competition. She recently qualified for the Moot Corp Competition at the University of Texas at Austin.

Aside from being a lot of work, for these students, their businesses are their lives.

“Every check just goes back into the business and our investment in us,” Kroleski said.

“It’s so much fun — people don’t understand,” Salame said. “Entrepreneurship is the life. I’m actually living the dream.”