When Edwina Koch stepped onto the field in Busch Stadium to make her best pitch, she wasn’t planning to throw curveballs, sliders or any other kind of pitch meant to deceive. She wanted her delivery to be precise, well-timed and direct – straight down the middle.
In fact, even though she stood preparing to compete in the stadium that’s home to Major League Baseball’s 11-time World Champion Saint Louis Cardinals, throwing a baseball was the last thing on her mind.
The focus for Koch, a recently graduated student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, was on making a compelling case for her business — and delivering a winning business pitch to a panel of high-profile judges and investors.
This was the scene that played out in front of Koch at Saint Louis University’s Pitch and Catch Competition: ten top entrepreneurial students who had selected as finalists from among hundreds of others across the country lined up to compete, learn and pitch their businesses. Their pitch decks were projected on the massive scoreboard in center field. And in the dugout, high-profile investors sat, listened and judged.
“I learned that there are good ideas everywhere,” says Koch, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in Romance Languages and a minor earned from the Shuford Program in Entrepreneurship. “Students are so motivated, and I met teams that came from all over the country to compete. It was cool to hear about everyone’s entrepreneurial journeys, and even though it was a competition, the atmosphere was collaborative.”
The genesis for Koch’s business occurred when she and Hanna Watkin, a fellow student from England, met and became friends while they were au pairs in Paris. It took the two students several months to adjust to the city, adapt to living with their new host families and learn to live abroad for the first time. All the while, they became frustrated by the lack of support available for au pairs. They knew other au pairs would benefit from the information and resources they never received, so they started Au Pair, Oh Paris as a business venture to fill the knowledge gap.
So far, the team has written a book, created YouTube videos, started a Twitter account and developed the Au Pair, Oh Paris bucket list, which give au pairs a recommended list of places to visit. These resources are all designed to provide other au pairs with the information and tools they need to have the most rewarding experience possible and avoid being exploited.
Koch saw the pitch competition in Saint Louis as a way to gain valuable experience.
“Taking advantage of as many pitching opportunities as you can is important as a student entrepreneur,” said Koch.
And while winning prize money is always an alluring possibility, she notes, that’s just part of the draw for students who compete in such competitions. “Pitching, especially in front of big crowds, is an opportunity to get your idea in front of other people and sharpen certain details of it that you might not have thought of before.”
Koch received financial support from the Innovate Carolina Dreamers-Who-Do Program. The program is designed to help students at UNC-Chapel Hill delve into real-world entrepreneurial learning experiences.
“The Dreamers-Who-Do Program gives students who have innovative ideas the financial support they need to go and explore those ideas through experiential learning,” said Sheryl Waddell, director of the Innovate Carolina Global Network. “This program provides students opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise receive to learn firsthand what it means to be an entrepreneur.”
Waddell notes that the program supports a wide range of learning activities for students, such as participation in conferences, events, competitions or student-led projects that allow students to put ideas into practice an develop and entrepreneurial mindset and skillset.
For Koch, the chance to pitch her business to nearly 30 investors, entrepreneurs and senior business leaders with a combined net worth of more than $30 billion was a learning experience like no other. And some of the most valuable moments, she remarked, actually came after the competition concluded. That’s when she was able to talk to leading executives like Bob Ciapciak, a partner at Edward Jones, and Doug Myers, director of innovative concepts at Panera Bread.
“These conversations after the pitch were more valuable than winning first, second or third place,” notes Koch. “Now I have new mentors and people who can possibly invest in the business down the line.”
As she moves to Paris after graduating to work on the Au Pair, Oh Paris business, Koch encourages other students to get the most from their experiences as entrepreneurs. “Work hard, be consistent and pitch as much as possible,” she advises. “Pitching and going to competitions and events is how to meet other people in the entrepreneurial community. Talk to the customers and to investors. Have as many conversations as possible. And don’t be too concerned about being over-prepared and perfect, because if that’s your mentality, you’ll never be ready.”