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First Annual Michael L. Karapetian '97 Entrepreneurship Symposium

First Annual Shark Tank Goes Swimmingly

An alumnus, a professor, and a great idea come together in a successful entrepreneurship symposium for undergraduates. And if this was big, wait till next year!

In Los Angeles, California, Michael L. Karapetian ’97 had a vision. He wanted to support Moravian College undergraduates interested in starting a business, kick start their entrepreneurial goals before they head out onto their career paths. “I wanted to give back to the school but I didn’t just want to donate money,” says Karapetian. “I wanted to support a cause. I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship, and I had wished there had been a program when I was a student here.”

Gary Kaskowitz, associate professor and chair of the department of economics and business here at Moravian College, also had a vision. His was to create course in entrepreneurship for undergraduates. “Entrepreneurship is important to every student as he or she enters the marketplace,” points out Kaskowitz. “Whether you are starting a business, searching for a job, or trying to advance in your existing career you have to consider these questions:

  • What does the world need?
  • What can I do well?
  • And how can I make a connection between the two?”

Enter Julia Gasdaska '07, director in the Department of Institutional Advancement at the College. She brought Karapetian and Kaskowitz together, invited registrar Lexi Smith to join the conversation, and the inaugural Michael L. Karapetian ’97 Entrepreneurship Symposium was born. “This was a wonderful pairing of an alum and a faculty member that led to a valuable opportunity for our students,” says Gasdaska.

Students Take Their Business Plans to the Sharks

Karapetian suggested the symposium be modeled after TV’s famous “Shark Tank,” in which novice entrepreneurs present their business plans to a panel of judges comprised of savvy, seasoned, wealthy business men and women who decide whether or not to invest in the proposed concept. In the Moravian College version, 13 students unveiled their ideas, one at a time to a panel of judges comprised of alumni. The final four best ideas were presented individually to judges Karapetian, Gasdaska, and Patricia Mulroy, PhD, executive director of Learning for Global Personalized Academics. Money was awarded for first, second, and third place.

Students developed their businesses in conjunction with their course in entrepreneurship taught by Kaskowitz, and each student was mentored throughout process by an alum.

Michael L. Karapetian '97 Entrepreneurship Symposium

Alumni and Others Share Best Practices

While students excitedly, and a bit nervously, made their case for their business concepts, forums led by current business owners opened up discussions among symposium attendees—alumni and members of the Lehigh Valley community about best practices.

Dan Petrozzo ’91, co-founder of Verilume, delivering software solutions for IT operations, and AJ Leahy, president and CEO of POM-CO, a producer of compact personal safety devices for college students led a discussion about lessons learned in starting up a startup. Robert Kafafian ’77, president and CEO of The Kafafian Group Inc., consultants to community financial institutions, spoke on the important life decisions entrepreneurs face. And Steve Boerner, Founder and President of Hatch House Ventures, LLC, shared advice and lessons he’s learned as owner of an incubator/consulting firm for start-ups.

A closing presentation was given by local businesswoman and business coach Jane Wells Schooley who launched into an impassioned and inspirational discussion of the creative, somewhat crazy, largely heroic work of the entrepreneur. Wells shared her and husband Stu’s remarkable transformation of a former limestone mine and cement manufacturing company into what is today Dutch Springs, a thriving freshwater diving site and lakeside adventure park. It was a story to fire up all the imaginative minds in the audience.

And the Student Winners Are…

To find out who was awarded first ($2,000), second ($1,500) and third prize ($500) and for a complete list of student entrepreneurs and their businesses, click here. “Next year will be bigger and better,” says Karapetian. “We’ll open the competition up to the whole campus. And perhaps eventually to the entire community of Lehigh Valley college students.” If a certain entrepreneurial excitement runs in your blood, consider setting your creative gears in motion now.

The second annual symposium held on November 20, 2016 was even more successful as the first. Lauren Zsilavecz '18 almost didn't take the class that would lead her to a cash prize—and her first big entrepreneurship idea. "When I started to read ahead in the syllabus that first night, I could tell this class was going to take me out of my comfort zone," she says. "I’ll admit: halfway through the first class, I pulled up AMOS on my laptop to see if there were any other classes I could take in its place! I had no idea I was capable of what I achieved—and I am so glad I stuck it out."

Zsilavecz took second place, earning her $3,000 and many priceless lessons. "Of course winning the prize money is exciting, but I would have been just as happy without it. I got so much more out of the class and symposium; I was able to take what I was learning in the classroom and apply it to a real-world situation."

—Claire Kowalchik