The Apex Center for Entrepreneurs in the Pamplin College of Business will host the 2018 Virginia Tech Entrepreneur Challenge Finals on Friday, March 23, at the Lyric Theatre in downtown Blacksburg.  

With more than 100 teams in the preliminary rounds, the 2018 challenge is Virginia Tech’s most competitive business-idea competition, said Derick Maggard, Apex Center executive director.

In the finals, the top 12 teams will pitch before a live audience in a bid to win $60,000 in prizes: the $25,000 grand prize, $5,000 fan favorite award, and three $10,000 prizes for other top teams. Industry experts will judge the pitches and select the winners. 

The event will also offer keynote speakers, panel discussions, and networking opportunities with successful alumni and other business leaders.  

“The challenge brings aspiring student entrepreneurs together with successful alumni entrepreneurs and investors to showcase Hokie innovation and make connections that advance the creation of new ventures,” said Maggard.

Serial entrepreneur Nathan Latka will emcee the event. While attending Virginia Tech, Latka launched his first company, which he grew to $5 million in total revenue and a $10.5 million valuation before selling to a competitor in 2016.

Latka will also moderate the keynote panel discussion with Pat Matthews and Kevin Minnick, Virginia Tech alumni who co-founded Webmail.us and sold it to Rackspace in a deal valued at $50 million. Matthews is currently managing director of venture firm Active Capital; Minnick is a vice president at analytics firm Chartio.

Another keynote speaker is Davis Smith, founder and CEO of Cotopaxi, an outdoor gear maker with a humanitarian mission. Smith is a member of the United Nations Foundation’s Global Entrepreneurs Council and a Presidential Leadership Scholar. He has visited 70 countries, floated down the Amazon on a self-made raft, and kayaked from Cuba to Florida.

Other participants include Virginia Tech alumni Kristen Badgley, west regional managing director for Accenture; Anthony Beverina, chief strategy officer for Socially Determined; and John Kinzer, CFO of HubSpot, who will moderate panel discussions on what it takes to launch a successful startup, the “unavoidable challenges and unfortunate realities” faced by aspiring entrepreneurs, and “do’s” and “don’ts” when approaching mentors and investors.

The judging panel includes the longest serving CEO in Silicon Valley, Raymond D. “Ray” Zinn. Zinn is CEO, chairman, and president of semiconductor company Micrel, which he co-founded in 1978. He holds more than 20 patents.  

“Ray is a generous supporter of our programs, providing capital for the Apex Center’s Zinnstarter and KickstartVT, which help students progress along the value chain of entrepreneurship,” Maggard said.

Maggard also thanked 1901 Group for its generous support of the challenge. The firm’s CEO and president and Virginia Tech alumnus Sonu Singh will participate in a panel discussion and serve as a judge.

“The Apex Center works to inspire and empower students to launch game-changing new ventures by providing mentorship and other resources to help them develop their ideas and business models and offering opportunities to compete for early-stage funding,” Maggard said.

“Our primary goal is to connect student innovators and aspiring entrepreneurs with business professionals to share challenges and opportunities, facilitate brainstorming and collaboration, and promote creative, scalable solutions to industry and global problems,” he said.

“It is rewarding to help young entrepreneurs unleash their creativity to find answers.”  

More than 500 students have competed and more than 250 business leaders have been involved since the center hosted its first challenge in 2014.

For more information about the challenge, contact Meghan Pfleiderer, new venture program manager, at megp@vt.edu or (540)231-1328.