Wolverine Venture Battle pays off for competitors

Wolverine Venture Battle judges could not resist Songbird’s call. They awarded the music education app’s developers the largest share of the prize money at stake in this year’s Grove City College Center for Entrepreneurship + Innovation (E+I) contest.

Nine teams of student entrepreneurs made the final round of the annual business venture competition and last week they competed for a piece of a prize package worth over $25,000 in cash and in-kind services. Judges who heard the students make their case for their ventures decided how much of the prize pool to “invest” in each team.

The final round took place in Sticht Lecture Hall on Friday, April 28. Fifty high school students from 14 schools/programs participated as “Junior Judges” and were each given a small allotment of money to allocate to the team of their choice.

Songbird was the big winner, taking home $6,050 in prizes. The team consists of Jenna Knepper ’25, Zach Warrick ’26, Rachel Petschke ’26, Aliyah Shelatz ’25, and Addison Byers ’24. Songbird is a gamified education app that teaches music to students with special needs.

"I am so thrilled that other people are as passionate about the idea of Songbird as my team, and I are! The Wolverine Venture Battle was an amazing experience and I'm so thankful to have a hardworking team and inspiring teachers," Knepper said.

Other teams receiving cash prizes were:

  • Just Pause (Luke Gilligan ‘24 and Mark Wilhelm ‘23) – $4,240 – A companion app for individuals living with bipolar disorder.
  • Bridge (Elliot Eyre ’24, Maura Donatelli ’24, and Caleb Warrick ’24) – $4,100 – A creative media and networking platform for those in the music industry.
  • Athletes After (Justin DeMild ’24 and Max Muncy ’24) – $3,650 – A sports recruitment platform designed to help give high school athletes the power and information they need.
  • Cliqz (Joe Gray ’24) – $2,760 – A social network designed to take people from bored in their apartments to out and doing things in as few clicks as possible.
  • Virtual Clarity (Anna Ortiz ’24 and Emma Ruby Whiteford ’24) – $1,900 – Virtual reality technology for behavioral health units and those experiencing depression.
  • Folded Hands (Dillon Werstiuk ’23, David Kraus ’23, Avalon Parsons ’23, and Sean Matthews ‘23) – $1,600 – An application that allows members of a congregation to connect with their pastor and other members of their church to engage in prayer.
  • PrayReal (Grace Anne Shaw ’24, Cade Voller ’26, Jack Bowery ’26, Ally Gaines ’25, and Sarah Anderson ’25) – $1,520 – A faith-based social media platform that connects you with your Christian friends when you respond to a daily, spontaneous notification to pray.
  • Sabbatica (Jake Botkin ’23, Grant Baierl ’23, and Rachel Goetz ’24) – $300 – Provides a three- to five-day micro-sabbatical program that aims to rest, refresh, and rejuvenate burnt out employees and pastors.

Two teams tied for the Fan Favorite Award, which is determined by in-person and online viewers of the competition. Songbird and Bridge each won an additional $500 as the top vote getters.

“This year’s event was both exciting and suspenseful as it’s the first time I wasn’t able to predict which team would win the most money and the Wolverine Venture Battle Grand Champion Title! I left feeling inspired by the passion and vision of the competitors,” said Yvonne J. English, Executive Director for E+I and Entrepreneur-in-Residence.

For many finalists, the competition often marks the culmination of their journey through an entrepreneurial ecosystem created and managed by E+I. The prize money and in-kind services may help them fuel their commercial or social venture after graduation.

Each team that advanced to the finals made it through a rigorous evaluation by 56 independent reviewers, who scored the teams’ pitches based on criteria such as their solution to a real problem, their forecasted costs and revenue, and their competitive advantage.

Reviewers this year were:  Freddie Bremble '80, Allyson Sveda '88, Dean Faklis, Bob Baierl, Liam Krut '14, Winifred McGee '77, Alan Mesches '71, Jennifer Gilliland, Alissa Sgro '96, Lesley Winfield '92, Rob Wright '04, Paul Marshall '78, Edward Huttenhower '76, Scott Brainard '76, Chris Botting '83, Brad Dearborn '78, Tiffany Bicek '18, Kim Ford '72, Melissa Jacobs '92, Evan Lowe '89, Scott McDowell '87, Ronald Miller '75, John Romain '85, Steve Wickman, Lindy Hitzel '19, Toby Basalla '98, Steve Solman '96, Frances Baldwin, Sandy Frederick, Glenn Grossman, Kim Marks, Chloe Sayers '15, Ron Emery, Brian Gongaware '92, Warren Poschman '98, Craig Creaturo '92, Scott Inderbitzen '10, John Holt '84, William Messner '96, Ruth Entwistle '07, Beth Lepore, Brian Montgomery '96, Robin Parsons, Dianne Ruhl '89, Tim Tobitsch '03, Joshua Weatherstone '15, Curt Given '84, Alex Graham '67, Bob Keller '73, James Will '98, Patricia Premick '84, Barbara Johnson '79, Charles (Bob) Scott '72, Andrew Ellison, Collin Foster '12, and Don Lockhart '67.

Judges were Dan Creston ’81, Pete Durfee ’80, RJ Fryan ’08, Matthew W. Gordon, Connor Grieb ’18, Grace Hovis ’19, Josh Newton ’09, Paul Passaro, Mark Pentz ’81, Michael Pentz ’06, and Brad Schake.

Sponsors include: Davevic Benefit Consultants; Wesley Family Services; Armstrong; the Habbershon Family: Tim ’81, Grant ’06, Meredith ’07, Jonathan ’09 and Natalie ’11; John & Betsy Baun Charitable Foundation (Pittsburgh Foundation); Dan Creston ’81; Susan (Peshek ’81) and Peter Durfee ’80; Laura (Koller ’11) and RJ Fryan ’08; Connor Grieb ’18, the Kiska Family: Stan ’85, Deanna ’87, Evan ’20 and Lauren; The Newton Family: Rick '86, Terrie ’85, Josh ’09, Anna ’17, Jesse ’19, Josiah ’24, and Abigail; Elisabeth O’Brien ’16, The Passaro Family; The Pentz Family: Mark ‘81, Cheri ‘79, Michael ‘06, Yvonne ‘06; Peter and Elizabeth (Smith ’81) Hanley; Cedric E. Lewis, JD/MBA, Pittsburgh Web Design; and Sisterson & Co.

For more about The Center for E+I, visit gccentrepreneurship.com.

Wolverine Venture Battle pays off for competitors

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