60-second entrepreneurs

Author: Christine Cox


Sean Kibbe is a seasoned business strategist, innovation expert and tech entrepreneur.

But tonight he’s just Number 5.

It’s Ideas Challenge night at Notre Dame, where students — grad or undergrad, business or non-business — line up to give 60-second business pitches. There’s no advanced paperwork, no preliminary screening. It’s basically an open mic night for entrepreneurs.

Top prize is $500, determined by audience vote. The next four best ideas receive a Go-Pro video camera. Various cash prizes, gift cards and even mentoring opportunities await top participants.

And Kibbe — a one-year MBA student — is ready to pitch.

He takes the microphone, introduces himself and presents his idea: a thin plastic that’s wrapped around a vehicle to reduce surface drag by 40 percent.

“That’s astronomical,” Kibbe says, efficiently elaborating on subsequent fuel savings and environmental mitigation.

He explains the technology behind his patented wrap — it incorporates nano-sized mushroom-shaped pockets molded into the plastic — and projected revenues — $4.5 billion. He concludes by explaining the wrap can also be used on cars, trains and other forms of transportation.


He receives applause and watches the rest of the competition with a few MBA friends. Fifty-seven other students pitch ideas ranging from a machine that perfectly mixes drinks to an app that distributes excess food to charities to swimsuit technology that eliminates tan lines. There are many ideas for mobile apps and a large number of pitches that address social, health or environmental concerns.

After an hour, it’s time for results. Kibbe’s technology is voted one of the top five ideas, and he walks away with a video camera. An MBA friend, Ryan Cody, receives $100 for the best health care idea, an app that would allow people to donate blood in the privacy of their own home. At least two other MBA students win prizes.

The audience grants the top prize to an undergraduate business senior, Rose Walsh, who pitches the concept of a multi-owner vineyard that would allow people to bottle their own wine.

Nevertheless, Kibbe is pleased. “It was a lot of fun,” he says. “It was exciting to see such interesting ideas from other students. Exposure to new ideas can spark further brainstorming and even collaboration.”

The point of the competition is to prime participation for the McCloskey Business Plan Competition, a signature event also sponsored by the Notre Dame Gigot Center for Entrepreneurship. The contest allows participants to network with highly influential entrepreneurs, angel investors and venture capitalists as they compete to win up to $300,000 in cash and prizes. With a grand prize of $25,000 cash, the competition starts November 1 and features four highly competitive rounds that end in April.

And Number 5 is gearing up.

“When I first started at Mendoza, it was very clear how much opportunity there was for the business students,” he says. “McCloskey is a perfect example. As an entrepreneur, I couldn’t ask for a better stage to present the technology and business plan I’ve been working on. Tonight was a good warm-up!”