Pitch contest wraps up Truist Empowering Entrepreneurs Executive Seminar Series

Penn State Harrisburg students took home prize money to help them move their startup ideas forward
Penn State Harrisburg students Veer Patel and Tyler Muessig pitch their business idea, while standing at a lectern.

Penn State Harrisburg students Veer Patel and Tyler Muessig pitch their startup idea - an artificial intelligence detection tool - to a panel of judges during the Student Startup Showcase, held during the final event of the Truist Empowering Entrpreneurs Executive Seminar Series.

Credit: Sharon Siegfried

MIDDLETOWN, Pa. — Penn State Harrisburg finance major Aiden Beiler has always loved the game Monopoly – so much so that on his 7th birthday, his family created a 20-foot-by-20-foot Monopoly board in the back yard.

“It was one of the most exciting days of my life,” Beiler said. “Over the years, I’ve collected other jumbo yard games, and I wanted to share that joy with other people.”

Beiler recounted that moment for a panel of judges in April as he pitched his startup business — Mega Party Rentals, which rents out large-scale outdoor games for parties and events. At the Student Startup Showcase, the final event of the Truist Empowering Entrepreneurs Executive Seminar Series hosted by Harrisburg LaunchBox powered by Penn State, students had 90 seconds to pitch their startup ideas for a chance to win funds and help make their business dreams come true.

At the April event, eight students and teams presented their ideas before a panel of judges: Jay Bailey, RICE; John Sider, Ben Franklin Technology Partners; Dustin Bentz, White Rose Ventures; Sarah Lesser, Truist; and Bruce Newell, MANTEC.

The final event drew undergraduate and graduate students from a variety of majors, including mechanical engineering, computer science, finance and public administration. Their project ideas ranged from a smart aquaculture hub to help Indonesian fish farmers with the cost of cold storage to car sharing on campus and creating natural perfumes.

Some of the businesses had launched, while others were in the idea stage. Students were able to attend preparation sessions and did market research to back up their ideas.

“What was different about this: it was a quick pitch,” said Amma Johnson, director of the Penn State Harrisburg Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, who also oversees the Harrisburg LaunchBox. “The students didn’t have 10 minutes. They didn’t even have five minutes. … The focus was for them to be able to clearly communicate what it is they are trying to do and what their value proposition is.”

The pitch competition closed out the Truist Empowering Entrepreneurs Executive Seminar Series, which is aimed at helping strengthen small businesses in the Harrisburg region, including minority- and women-owned businesses, by inspiring innovation and entrepreneurship and helping connect startups with local resources. The five-part series was supported by Truist Foundation and took place throughout the 2023-24 academic year. The foundation provided $100,000 in grant funding to support the series over three years.  

The series convened diverse leaders in the entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem around topics, including access to capital; technical support programs; mentorship for success; research and development of new technologies and more. The final event featured keynote speaker Jay Bailey, president and CEO of the Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs in Atlanta, Georgia. 

“Through Truist Foundation, we are proud to support the Empowered Entrepreneurs Executive Series at Penn State Harrisburg because it aligns to our purpose of inspiring and building better lives and communities,” said Sarah Lesser, senior vice president and Central Pennsylvania market president for Truist. “By supporting businesses and individuals at every stage of their lifecycle, from startup to transition, we are able to create stronger and more vibrant local communities. It was a privilege to hear from leading ecosystem experts from across the U.S. and see what transformational business ideas Penn State Harrisburg students have that will eventually impact the marketplace.”

Beiler, the first-place winner of the student competition, said he attended all five of the Truist series events during the academic year.

“It was amazing to take everything I've learned from the entire Truist series and apply it to my own business,” he said, adding that the prize money will help his business invest more in marketing and expand the range of games provided. “There were many talented teams competing, and I am very honored to have been selected as the winner. This event was an excellent way for students to connect with business professionals both locally in Harrisburg and from across the country.”

Veer Patel and Tyler Muessig, who took second place in the pitch competition, both said they attended some of the previous Truist events as well and found them informative.

“I’d also say that it’s a big networking opportunity,” Muessig said, noting that he connected with professionals that were able to help him with other clubs he runs.

Their business idea – ANTai, an artificial intelligence detection tool – grew out of the growth in available AI tools, and surveys that show most people are nervous about the potential for AI to be used in the wrong ways, Patel said. He and Muessig support AI, he said, but want to build something to help ensure it is not misused.

“We’re really grateful for the opportunity to be able to present and get that initial investment so we can invest in our business and go further with our idea,” Patel said. “Now we can focus on the project and … start working on developing this technology throughout the summer.”

Student Startup Showcase winners

  • 1st place, $1,200: Mega Party Rentals, Aiden Beiler 
  • 2nd place, $750: ANT.ai, Tyler Muessig and Veer Patel
  • 3rd place, $500: THE CEO, Vedant Patel

Audience choice winners ($250)

  • 1st place: THE CEO
  • 2nd place: Mega Party Rentals
  • 3rd place: Wangi Boenga, Devita Putri

About Harrisburg LaunchBox

Harrisburg LaunchBox powered by Penn State provides early-stage startups with support and resources they need to build a sustainable and scalable business and a viable plan for growth. No-cost programs and services can include co-working space, accelerator programs, legal and intellectual property resources and expert mentorships from Penn State’s extensive network. LaunchBox is open to everyone — community members and those affiliated with Penn State. Harrisburg LaunchBox is a signature program of the Invent Penn State initiative and one of 21 innovation spaces located in Penn State campus communities across Pennsylvania.

This project was financed in part by a grant from the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Community & Economic Development.

About Truist Foundation

Truist Foundation is committed to Truist Financial Corporation's (NYSE: TFC) purpose to inspire and build better lives and communities. The Foundation, an endowed private foundation established in 2020 whose operating budget is independent of Truist Financial Corporation, makes strategic investments in a wide variety of nonprofit organizations centered around two focus areas: building career pathways to economic mobility and strengthening small businesses to ensure all communities have an equal opportunity to thrive. Embodying these focus areas are the Foundation’s leading initiatives – the Inspire Awards and Where It Starts. Learn more at Truist.com/Foundation.

About Philanthropy at Penn State

Donors like the Truist Foundation advance the University’s historic land-grant mission to serve and lead. Through philanthropy, alumni and friends are helping students to join the Penn State family and prepare for lifelong success; driving research, outreach and economic development that grow our shared strength and readiness for the future; and increasing the University’s impact for families, patients and communities across the commonwealth and around the world. Learn more by visiting raise.psu.edu.