UNI students pitch their next million dollar business idea

What do people usually do during the average elevator ride? Pass floor after floor with their morning coffee in hand on the way to the office, inconspicuously groove to elevator music, try to fend off the inevitable germs that are floating in the air or pitch an exciting business idea? Ok, maybe an elevator isn’t the best place to speak business, but if people want to sell their next big idea, their pitch should be no longer than the average elevator ride, approximately 30 seconds to two minutes.

Therese Kuster

Therese Kuster, this year's elevator pitch competition winner, is owner of TargetClick, an online marketing firm.

This practice is called the “elevator pitch.” It's an important tool that businesspeople around the world use to quickly and simply define a product, service or organization to a potential client. University of Northern Iowa students had a chance to practice an elevator pitch during a competition co-sponsored by UNI Entrepreneurs and the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center (JPEC).

Students competed for a chance to advance to the National Elevator Pitch Competition in Fort Worth, Texas. They were given 90 seconds to explain their business idea to a panel of four judges and were evaluated on content and delivery. Feedback was given to each contestant. Have an elevator pitch ready wherever you go - you never know when you'll need it - a job or internship could pop up anywhere.

"You never know who you're going to come across to give that pitch to," said Laurie Watje, student business incubator manager at the JPEC and elevator pitch competition judge. "Someone at the supermarket could ask what you do, you give them an elevator pitch and end up with a job or internship."

This year's winner was Therese Kuster, a senior in public relations. When she's not attending class and catching up on homework, Kuster is busy working with her business. She, along with her two partners, is owner of TargetClick, an online marketing firm. When clients come to Kuster, she helps them improve their overall Web presence, which increases their rankings on search engines like Google, leading to more traffic on their sites and ultimately more sales. And that's just some of what she discussed in her elevator pitch.

"People ask all the time what we do and what our business is like," said Kuster. "Having a consistent 90 second summary to share makes it easy to explain our services. I could talk about online marketing for hours, but when someone just wants a basic idea of what TargetClick does, it's nice to let something just roll off my tongue."

Contestant Ryan Mack came prepared with an actual prototype of his business idea, the SimpleRope. SimpleRope is a product intended to replace the traditional stake and rope system used to mark off golf course maintenance areas. After dealing with the hassle of tangled ropes, one golf course owner came up with a more efficient and professional looking way to handle maintenance areas; Mack eventually took over the idea and even came up with ways to improve the SimpleRope.

"Giving an elevator pitch helps my business by forcing me to be able to quickly promote my product to a potential customer or investor," said Mack. "Creating the elevator pitch makes me learn about my customer and product to the fullest extent. "

The National Elevator Pitch Competition, hosted by the Collegiate Entrepreneurs Organization, is Oct. 27 to 29.