Pitch Perfect

Tenley Rooney
ASP Entrepreneurship students mean business

Sarah Blampied is accustomed to spikes in adrenaline. The rising senior at Profile High School in Franconia speeds down mountains as a member of the school's Alpine ski team and races against the clock as a competitive mountain biker. But the Bethlehem-raised teen said neither activity compares to the jolt of nerves she experienced before her final presentation in her Entrepreneurship class during the St. Paul’s School Advanced Studies Program (ASP).
 
The culminating assignment for the five-week course mirrored the popular ABC TV show “Shark Tank,” where entrepreneurs pitch their businesses to deep-pocketed investors. While more than 260 friends, family, and faculty members watched Blampied and her classmates tried to convince a panel of three local entrepreneurs and two ASP staff members that their original product would be worthy of their time and money.
 
“I like talking and speaking, but I had never been in front of anyone other than my peers,” said Blampied about facing a crowd the size of her entire school, grades 7-12. “The night before I got pretty nervous. I felt the second line I said was one of my hardest and once I got past that, I was more relaxed. I realized everyone at St. Paul’s was there to support me.”
 
Among the products presented to the panel were protective cases that use UV light to disinfect bacteria-filled retainers, self-cleaning doormats that suck dirt off of shoes, survival kits filled with items for use in emergencies, and an app that helps connect musicians with producers and record executives. Before the class faced the bright lights in the Gates Lounge in the Athletic & Fitness Center, they immersed themselves into the rigorous coursework designed by their instructor, Dr. William Jackson ASP ’84, a veterinarian and board-certified equine surgeon turn independent businessman. They learned personal finance practices and how to manage a budget, then graduated to daily two-minute public speaking drills in class. And finally, created a 30-40 page business plan for an original product.
 
“One of the big problems with veterinary medicine and regular medicine is they never teach you about business,” explained Jackson. “You learn through the school of hard knocks. You don’t need to get an MBA to run a business, but it was a punctuation mark for me.”
 
Jackson and his wife, Dr. Cynthia Jackson, a board-certified equine internist, have started and sold a veterinary practice, and now operate several real estate businesses in Ohio where they reside.
 
"I think the students feel they have accomplished something," said Jackson. “They learned a whole lot. Holding them accountable with the business materials and putting them in the spotlight is rewarding and challenging them at the same time.”
 
Working in teams of three, the students conducted market research and made prototypes with the help of fellow ASP pupils in Data Driven and Engineering classes. They also needed to summarize their business plans into a six-minute pitch. Jackson added another challenge by requiring the students to give the presentations without the aid of note cards and take questions on-demand from the panel.

"The real show is pretty brutal," said ASP Entrepreneurship and Plymouth Regional High School student Tobias Phillips. "They grill the entrepreneurs on every piece of information that would launch them into a period of growth. It was a good exercise in preparing for criticism, having those types of people calling your bluffs and making you think."

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