Interapt CEO Ankur Gopal has worked with Junior Achievement to develop its inaugural Pitch Competition & Showcase, a Shark Tank-style event that brings in JA students from local high schools to present their startup ideas to a panel of accomplished entrepreneurs. Winners will receive cash prizes for use in the classroom, and all finalists get an in-school pizza party.
Even in its first year, the Pitch Competition & Showcase has already drawn a big name as its keynote speaker: Forecastle Festival founder JK McKnight, who will likely impart his own story about how Forecastle evolved from a humble gathering in a local park with a few hundred people to an annual event that owns the Louisville waterfront for 3 days a year and draws over 75,000 in attendance, creating an estimated $14 million impact on Louisville’s economy.
After finalists were announced this week, we sat down with Gopal to talk about the goals of the Pitch Competition and his advice for JA students who take part this year and beyond:
Q: In what ways will the Pitch Competition be similar to traditional business pitch competitions? In what ways will it be different?
Gopal: We’ve asked the high school kids to come up with an idea, research its feasibility, write a business plan and defend it – similar to traditional business plan competitions. We have made it a bit different in that we will be doing it in a Shark Tank style competition, where Q & A can be done any time, compelling these students to think on their feet.
Q: How does this competition serve the mission of Junior Achievement?
Gopal: JA strives to inspire and prepare young people to succeed in a global economy. This competition does that by allowing us to introduce entrepreneurial thinking and processes at an earlier age. This year we the event included the Louisville region with 30 high schools. Next year, we want to roll this out state-wide to help unleash the “inner entrepreneur” in all of Kentucky’s students. These kids will be the ones who start and build the next Humana, Yum, and Papa John’s, companies that will economically benefit themselves and the Commonwealth.
Q: What’s your best advice to any students competing in this competition?
Gopal: Two equally important, yet unrelated things: Do good research on your idea; and make sure your passion about your idea shows through. If you can convince a shark that you’ve done your homework and get them to believe in you as an entrepreneur, then you’re halfway home.