Shark Tank competition gives Catawba students experiential opportunity

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 9, 2021

SALISBURY – Eight groups of students got to compete for a cash prize as “shark” judges determined the winner in front of an audience of dozens at Catawba College’s Hedrick Little Theatre on Nov. 19. Each student group delivered a five-minute pitch describing their original ideas for using drones to address a business opportunity.  

Dr. Andrew Jacobson, assistant professor of GIS and Conservation in the Department of Environment and Sustainability, came up with the idea of offering a competition modeled after the hit television show Shark Tank. He partnered with  Jeremiah Nelson, assistant professor of management in the Ketner School of Business.

The vision was to form interdisciplinary groups to combine the technical expertise that students develop in Jacobson’s Drone Pilot Training course with the business knowledge and entrepreneurial thinking of students in Nelson’s creativity and innovation course. Together, these students would research applications of drone technology and pitch their business ideas to a group of Sharks. 

The following Sharks provided both praise and critique following each pitch based on their unique perspectives and years of business experience. 

  • Greg Alcorn ’79, CEO of Global Contact Services
  • Trey Germano ’22, student body president
  • Evelyn Medina, owner, Mean Mug
  • Tonyan Schoefield, owner, Tonyan Grace Boutique and Fit for a Queen Boutique
  • Kyle Snyder ’96, DHS Robotics Program Manager, Cherokee Nation Strategic Programs

The winning group, Mycodrone, consisted of students Willow Gatewood, Emma Halstead, Joseph Linder, and Damir Zababuryn. Their winning idea was a grow-your-own and largely biodegradable drone made from bioplastics and mycelial materials.  Their business plan initially targeted science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) educators with future expansion planned for hobbyists and retail toy stores.

“This has been one of my favorite events of the year,” Willow Gatewood said. “The project pushed me beyond my boundaries and made me think about how multi-faceted life is; a seemingly simple idea about merging the durable bio-material from mushrooms and a drone got complex fast! This project forced all students to experience a taste of what it’s like to work collaboratively, between disciplines, to devise sustainable solutions in a technology-driven world. 

“What an incredible experience this has been for our students,” Environment and Sustainability Department chair Luke Dollar said. “Opportunities like this for students and faculty to collaborate across disciplines on experiential learning projects with real-world applications is what Catawba College is all about.”