SwatTank Brings Student Business Plans to Lax Conference for Entrepreneurship

by Aneesa Andrabi '16, Daily Gazette
Jalisa Roberts at Lax Conference
Jalisa Roberts '13 celebrates with judge Shalom Saar '74. Roberts won SwatTank 2013 with her proposal for The Cocoon Youth Empowerment Program.

The Science Center buzzed with alumni and students gathered for the annual Lax Conference for Entrepreneurship on Saturday. This year, the business pitch portion of SwatTank, Swarthmore's first business plan competition, made its big-time debut in the usual lineup of discussions and lectures.

The pitch was the conclusion of SwatTank, a play on the reality show SharkTank, a business plan competition that was sponsored by Career Services, the Dean's Office, the President's Office, the Center for Innovation and Leadership, and the Lax Conference. Saturday afternoon, members of three final teams presented their business ideas in front of an audience and a panel of judges in Sci 101.

The judges announced Jalisa Roberts '13 the winner for her proposed summer program for middle schoolers, The Cocoon Youth Empowerment Program, based in New Orleans East.

"Entrepreneurship is breaking the mold from conventional thinking. Ordinarily people think entrepreneurship is about making profit, which isn't really Swarthmore," judge Iqbal Quadir '81, founder of the largest telecommunications provider in Bangladash and founder and director of the Legatum Center for Development and Entrepreneurship at MIT, said. "Swarthmore provided me the encouragement to think of new ideas, outside of the box," Quadir said.

At last year's conference, an alum suggested the idea of a competition to the Entrepreneurship Club (E-Club). This year, five members of the club approached Career Services, who coincidentally had the same idea as well. The club got word out about the competition out, gave the competition structure, and communicated with alums.

"We found it very entrepreneurial to be setting up the competition," said Antony Kaguara '15, a member of E-Club. The competition "was kind of like a start-up in itself. Writing out the idea, getting a product together, and selling it to students. We didn't expect that many," he said.

Beginning with a call for proposals in October, the 11 competing teams created business plans and attended webinars each month in which alumni gave guidance on different business issues, eventually concluding with Saturday's judging. All team members had alumni mentors and were given guidance on a range of issues including idea generation, business plan writing, financing, pitching, and networking.

Career Services Associate Director Erin Massey and Assistant Director Jennifer Barrington worked with E-Club to create the program. "Without their energy and without their initiative and dedication to make this happen, it would not have happened," Massey said.

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