Inspired by the smash TV hit Shark Tank, an ambitious crew of Charter School of Wilmington (CSW) students conceived the bright idea to kick the school’s Entrepreneurship Club up a notch by adding a little competitive flair to the organization.
So a year ago Markos Zerefos, then a senior at CSW, and a few of his friends kicked off CharterLaunch, a “positive-environment” pitch competition where students from charter schools across the state can pitch amongst their peers and get feedback on their ideas, as well as hone their pitching skills. The students are all part of the Delaware Entrepreneurship League (DEL).
This year seven teams offered pitches inside the Charter/Cab Calloway theater on February 19th with ideas like CrypBit, an online marketplace in which users can buy and sell items by using cryptocurrencies, and Insugel, a new diabetes solution that reduces injections from daily to weekly.
But it was the Vector team of Udeerna Tippablatha, Chris Kontomaris and Jinay Jain, students at the Charter School of Wilmington, which took top prize for their same-day package delivery service using hubs and Uber drivers.
Zerefos, now a freshman at the University of Delaware and a member of the Horn Entrepreneurship Program, takes great pride in launching a student-run entrepreneurship competition, and he plans to help grow the competition to include teams from any high school with an entrepreneurship club.
We caught up with Zerefos to get his take on just how far CharterLaunch can go.
Town Square Delaware: What can students hope to gain by participating in CharterLaunch?
Zerefos: This peer-driven event is designed specifically to improve entrepreneurial skills, and also includes several small workshops with the same goal. Contestants are kept on their toes with variable challenges in each round of pitching, helping to simulate the real-world responsiveness that the entrepreneurship world demands.
This year’s presentations stand as a testament to the innovative problem-solving strategies that high schoolers in DEL employ. Members addressed everything from designing an online platform for sharing leadership opportunities for high school students to decentralizing delivery services.
TSD: What is it that you love about entrepreneurism, and when did you start the Charter Entrepreneurship Club?
Zerefos: I personally love the freedom that entrepreneurship can provide. My grandparents emigrated from Greece in the 1970s and were entrepreneurial. From a young age, they would instill in me certain principles that I still embody. I started the Wilmington Charter Entrepreneurship Club in August of 2016 as a junior.
TSD: How is this different from the Diamond Challenge, which is held right here in Wilmington and administered by UD?
Zerefos: We wanted a competition that would be exclusive for just the members in the Delaware Entrepreneurship League to practice pitching their ideas and have a fun outlet to network with others.
The Diamond Challenge is a phenomenal competition that I participated in while in high school. However, the Diamond Challenge is an international competition. Our competition is exclusive for Delawareans.
TSD: Is the Delaware Entrepreneurship League an outgrowth of the Charter Entrepreneurship Club?
Zerefos: Now that I am a freshman at the University of Delaware, I wanted to continue expanding the entrepreneurship club that I started. So I created the Delaware Entrepreneurship League (DEL) with the help and support of Nick Ulizio (the current president of the CSW Entrepreneurship Club) and Chris Kontomaris (the current VP of the CSW Entrepreneurship Club) to connect Delaware entrepreneurs.
There really is a high demand among other students and schools that are interested in entrepreneurship, especially with Governor Carney being pro-youth-entrepreneurship.
TSD: Why did Vector win this year’s challenge? What stood out about their concept or their pitch?
Zerefos: The reason why Vector won this year’s challenge was how well put together the team was in addition to actually having a solid plan of how they plan to move forward. They already have a plan to launch a beta-version this summer with a post-office in Wilmington. The ambition and realistic plans of the team while captivating the judges with a story was what truly set them apart from the others.