Business Watch: Washburn Pitch Competition nets good business ideas

Morgan Chilson is The Capital-Journal’s business reporter.

I was honored to judge the Washburn Pitch Competition last week, my first time entering the fast-paced environment of young people trying to sell me on their particular business ideas. I was teamed with two other judges, both of whom were veterans.


Equally as fascinating as the young people, several of whom had well-thought-out and impressive ideas, was how differently the three of us responded to the pitches. It’s a reminder how much of our own personal “stuff” we take to every interaction.

That’s important from two perspectives. As a person carrying stuff around — my likes, dislikes, personal pet peeves, etc. — I need to be self-aware and to know how those things impact my decisions. That’s a constant thought at work. How does my love of science impact my story choices? Does my dislike of someone’s personality impact whether I follow through on his story pitch? I work hard to make sure that’s not the case.

The second perspective is that of someone pitching anything to anyone ever. If you’re a salesperson, an entrepreneur, a freelance reporter, a singer — remember that sometimes, the reason for your rejection is out of your control. Now sometimes it’s a bad performance or idea, of course. But occasionally, the individual you’re working with may carry their own issues around that impact how they think of what you’re doing.

So that means you need to try, try again. Persevere. It’s one of the most important qualities for success.

Four competitors advance to final round of Washburn Pitch Competition

More than 60 students pitched their business ideas to teams of judges, hoping to advance to the Final Found for the chance of winning $25,000.

The four winners are:

  • Andrew Foreman, Washburn sophomore, presented an idea for an app called Apposite Vocabulary, designed to encourage users to learn new words and incorporate them into everyday use.
  • Axel Olin-Flores, Washburn freshman, pitched Hairpel, a product innovation for hair stylists and barbers to improve their clients’ experiences.
  • Matt Spezia, Washburn junior, presented his idea for the next generation of parking meters and mapping utilizing GPS and a laser reader.
  • Eric Watson, Washburn senior, pitched an idea for a social app called Hot Spot, which is intended to connect businesses and people; it will tell users what the scene is like at their favorite places in real time.

Washburn freshman Kiki Huang was awarded the top freshman entry for her pitch for a phone accessory designed to let the user hang it while using a public restroom. Washburn Tech student Andrew Myers received the top Washburn Tech student prize for his presentation of the Automated Hortus Hive, an automated Internet-connected system to streamline plant care and growth data.

New Kansas PTAC Subcenter in Topeka creates opportunities for local businesses

Topeka area businesses interested in government contracts and procurement have a new resource, thanks to GO Topeka’s Entrepreneurial and Minority Business Development program.

The program is now a Kansas Procurement Technical Assistance Center subcenter, and Kristi Dunn, who joined EMBD this summer as subcenter director, already is helping area businesses navigate the complex government requirements.

“The addition of a PTAC subcenter in Topeka – and Kristi’s skill and experiences as a subcontractor and project manager applied to the role of director – ensure we can provide local businesses with services they need close to home,” said Glenda Washington, vice president of EMBD. “This is a service set we were not previously able to provide. This assistance can mean big things for businesses that meet the required guidelines.”

Dunn, who came to GO Topeka with program development and project implementation experience with NASA, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and other agencies, is providing Topeka area businesses with individualized support and training previously accessible only in the Kansas City area or Wichita.

PTACs are the bridge between buyer and supplier, Dunn said, bringing knowledge of both government contracting and the capabilities of contractors to maximize fast, reliable service to our government with better quality and at lower costs. Services include bid-matching, bid preparation assistance, specifications and standards, regulations and certifications, procurement/price history and training seminars. PTACs also can assist small businesses looking to utilize designators such as woman-owned, minority-owned or service disabled veteran-owned.

All Kansas PTAC clients must meet specific guidelines and complete a registration process before services can be provided. Information about that process is available at Scheduled training opportunities in Topeka are online at

One such training is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 26. GO Topeka and PTAC will host a program to help business owners understand the SBA’s All Small Mentor-Protégé program. The program allows any small business to obtain critical developmental assistance from a mentor (large or small), with the blessing of the SBA. In addition, SBA-approved mentor-protégé teams get special exceptions from the SBA’s ordinary affiliation rules, including the ability to joint venture for set-aside and sole-source contracts even when the mentor is a large business.

Visit and look at training and events to see what’s available.

HCCI wins national award

The Housing and Credit Counseling Inc. received an Innovative Program Award for its TOTO (Topeka Opportunity To Own) affordable homebuying program.

The award was given by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at its annual conference in California last week.

“This is the first year NFCC has given this Innovative Program Award so HCCI is especially glad to be chosen out of a field of 66 member agencies,” said Chris Burk, lead counselor at HCCI.

The NFCC Innovative Program Award recognizes outstanding work to develop and lead a program and highlights the creative steps an agency takes to expand the scope of the project. The TOTO program partners with the Federal Home Loan Bank of Topeka, City of Topeka, Capitol Federal and other local lenders and realtors to provide Down Payment Assistance of $3,000 or more to qualified low- and moderately low-income Topeka families.

Burk said HCCI is working now to expand the Down Payment Assistance portion of the TOTO program statewide so lower-income families in any Kansas community may work with HCCI to qualify to receive Down Payment Assistance awards thanks to grant funding from FHLB.