Live from Babson: It’s Rocket Pitch

Gabriella Sally '25 presents her venture SPARC at Rocket Pitch
At Rocket Pitch, Gabriella Sally '25 presents her venture SPARC, a platform that guides high school students through the college application process.

Smaiyra Million P’21 sits at a desk, in front of a teleprompter, a video monitor, microphones, cameras, and a bank of lights.

The setting is the video studio tucked away on the second floor of Babson College’s Horn Library, and in mere moments, Million is set to go live. “This is an experiment,” says the executive director of Babson’s Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, “and we have to go with the flow.”

The focus of this day is Rocket Pitch. One of the hallmark Babson moments during the course of the year, Rocket Pitch allows teams of Babson students and alumni to pitch their business endeavors to a large audience primed to give valuable feedback.

Rocket Pitch is now in its 22nd year, and the event’s basic rules remain the same as they ever were: Teams have three minutes, and three slides, to present their ventures.

This year’s Rocket Pitch, however, does have one significant change: It’s being broadcast live on YouTube.

“How are we looking, Travis?” Million says to Travis Gray, Babson’s senior instructional multimedia designer, who keeps hustling between the studio and nearby control room, working on last-minute details on what promises to be a challenging, kinetic broadcast.

“It’s 1:05,” Gray says. “I’m going to hit go.”

Soon enough, a countdown from five is given, and Million, the host for the broadcast, turns to the camera. “Welcome to the 2021 Rocket Pitch live broadcast,” she says. “We are so excited that you are joining us today for one of Babson College’s most electrifying signature events.”

An Afternoon of Daring

With more than 40 teams participating in Rocket Pitch this year, the event makes for an afternoon of daring and gumption, as plans that have been sweated and fretted over are laid bare for others to see. “These students and alumni are brave enough to do this in front of a live audience,” says Donna Levin, CEO of Babson’s Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership.

Smaiyra Million and Donna Levin at Rocket Pitch
Smaiyra Million P’21 (left), executive director of Babson’s Arthur M. Blank Center for Entrepreneurship, and Donna Levin, CEO of Babson’s Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership, talk about entrepreneurs’ pitches during the YouTube broadcast of Rocket Pitch.

Teams present in one of five classrooms across Olin Hall, with each of those rooms representing a different aspect of entrepreneurial leadership: creating social impact, solving global problems, identifying opportunities, activating networks, and demonstrating inclusive leadership.

Video feeds from all five of those classrooms are sent to the Horn studio, where Million and guest commentators, such as Levin, offer analysis. From a technical perspective, the broadcast is a lot to juggle. “This is the most complicated thing we’ve ever done,” Gray says.

The hope is to give viewers a sense of the energy and excitement of the day, as a parade of student and alumni teams, one after the other, put forth their plans. In a way, the studio analysts channel the energy of sportscasters providing live commentary at a sporting event. “Our inspiration is the Olympics,” Million says. “This is an action-packed event.”

The Stars of the Show

The business ventures at Rocket Pitch run the gamut. Among other entrepreneurs, the YouTube broadcast focuses on Sree Dasari ’23 of Vadati, which utilizes virtual reality and heart rate analytics to help speakers practice presentations; Chigozie Wigwe MBA’22 of Brandzoos, an online directory for businesses; and Jeffery Goff MBA’22 of Natur Athletics, which is striving to rethink athletic footwear.

“These endeavors range from new, exciting ideas, to startup ventures heading to market, all the way to fully launched businesses,” Million says.

After the pitches, feedback comes next. Audience members, for instance, ask Meggan Levene MBA’22 of Pash, which is aiming to grow passion fruit and bring it to a larger audience in the United States, about how Pash will increase demand for passion fruit, and about whether the venture will import it from other countries.

“They are sharing ideas that have the potential to change so many lives. I always come away inspired.”

Donna Levin, CEO of Babson’s Arthur M. Blank School for Entrepreneurial Leadership

“Feedback is so impactful,” Million says. “It helps each entrepreneurial leader presenting today move forward on their journey.”

After the pitch by Carlo Demesa ’23 of Verve Energy, which sells caffeinated chocolate, the YouTube broadcast comes to a close. “We’re out,” Gray announces to those in the studio.

Considering the complexity of the event, the broadcast is far from perfect, with a fair share of hiccups and glitches, including a persnickety teleprompter that refuses to cooperate. But while the Rocket Pitch broadcast feels like it’s flying by the seat of its pants at times, Million is pleased with how it offers a peek at the fast-paced event, especially considering this was the first time such an undertaking was attempted.

“I feel so lucky to be in a place where you can try things like this,” she says. “This is truly entrepreneurial.”

Ultimately, the broadcast succeeds in shining a spotlight on Rocket Pitch’s stars: the entrepreneurs. “They are sharing ideas that have the potential to change so many lives,” Levin says. “I always come away inspired.”

Posted in Campus & Community, Entrepreneurship of All Kinds

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