Salisbury University senior finance major Jenna DeLetto recently made history as the first two-time winner of SU’s Bernstein Achievement Award for Excellence.
The prize for best student business plan included $10,000 from area entrepreneur Richard Bernstein, who founded the competition 30 years ago, as well as $5,000 from sponsor Rommel Holdings, Inc. and $5,000 in market research services from the Business, Economic and Community Outreach Network (BEACON), based in SU’s Franklin P. Perdue School of Business.
The award marked the culminating honor in this year’s Entrepreneurship Competitions, open to all SU students. She also won an additional $3,000 in earlier rounds within the competition for a total prize package of $23,000.
The past year has been a successful one for DeLetto, of Long Island, NY, whose idea for 5 POP, a football training device programmed to signal players when they are carrying the ball improperly, earned her $27,000 in cash and prizes during the 2015 competition. Since then, the parent company, 5 POP Sports, co-founded with her grandfather, Dave Manners, has won $35,000 more through similar events, including SU’s Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation Shore Hatchery program and the Eastern Shore Business Competition.
Since her initial presentation in 2015, she has made a number of modifications to the prototype, including adding a leather cover (which would be an upgrade option for customers) and lightening the device to make it nearly the same weight as an actual football. She and Manners also are working on installing sensors and creating an app that would provide real-time analysis on the amount of pressure being applied to the ball by the player’s five “points of pressure” (or “POP”): fingers, palm, forearm, bicep and torso.
She also had new data to share with the judges. During its first full season being tested by Easton Area High School in Pennsylvania, the team’s number of fumbles decreased by 50 percent from the previous season.
With an estimated 4.9 million American football players currently taking the field, she has little doubt she will find an audience for the product. Currently, the trainer is being tested at the collegiate level by four university teams: SU, Penn State, Lehigh and Stanford. To say results have been positive may be an understatement.
A coach at Penn State had already praised the earlier prototype. Stanford has invited DeLetto to its California campus following her graduation from SU this spring to work on the app and sensors with its engineering department. She already has seen interest from sports-related companies including Wilson and Under Armour.
“They all love the football,” she said.
When it comes to manufacturing the devices, her plans are to give back to the area that has helped make her business dream a reality, basing the company on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“Everyone has believed in this product,” she said. “I have had so much support here that I don’t want to leave.”
Quite a change of heart from her freshman year at SU, she admitted, when she was so homesick for Long Island that she seriously considered transferring.
Once the product is on the market, she envisions potentially creating multiple sizes to satisfy expected demand from professional, collegiate, youth and even women’s teams. And after that?
“There’s a reason we called the company 5 POP Sports and not 5 POP Football,” she said, noting there may be a market for similar trainers in other athletics.
Placing second in the Bernstein competition, was Neuro Helmet Systems. The plan to develop and market high-end, high-tech motorcycle helmets won $10,000 in cash from Maryland Capital Enterprises and the Maryland Department of Commerce, along with $17,500 in cash and services from earlier rounds. This included $4,000 from the Gull Cage round, the $10,000 Dover Corporation Best Product Award and a James List Award of $1,500 in legal services.
The idea was conceptualized by Megan Newcomer, Matthew Newcomer, Bob Cichielo and Jack Mister. The group also won the $1,000 Director’s Collaboration Award for the best team consisting of members from multiple schools, which included the Perdue School; SU’s Charles R. and Martha N. Fulton School of Liberal Arts; and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Third place went to Rapid Response Aero-Medical, which proposed a drone-mounted automated external defibrillator (AED) that hospitals could fly to cardiac arrest patients in remote areas, using cell phone triangulation, quicker than an ambulance could arrive. For the plan, William Tippet and Tyler Smith earned $5,000 from Pohanka of Salisbury, along with $13,000 plus in-kind services from earlier rounds. This included $8,000 from the Gull Cage round, a $2,000 one-year membership to Hotdesks, $1,000 in accounting services and $1,000 in legal services.
A fourth Bernstein Award finalist, Still Fighting, received $7,000 in cash and services including a $2,000 one-year membership to Hotdesks, $1,000 in accounting services and $1,000 in legal services. In addition, the proposal won a James List Award of $1,500 in legal services from the event’s Gull Cage and Invest in My Idea rounds. Proposed by Jessica Still and Rachel Oster, the company would manufacture and sell hospital gown-like shirts for cancer patients, with plastic-snap panels strategically placed to allow easy access for medical tubes and other care. The design originally was created for Still’s father during his battle with cancer.
Awards in the Gull Cage round, accounting for $20,000 of the top four teams’ winnings, were sponsored by Warren Citrin of Gloto Corporation, Bruce Rogers of Sherwood of Salisbury, Mike Thielke of Hotdesks and Jennifer Layton of Layton’s Chance Vineyard and Winery.
Along with the finalists, 11 additional teams received $1,000 each as winners of the competition’s “Invest in My Idea” round. They included:
- American elite, LLC – Adam Covell
- Badjo-T Industries – JeanPaul Badjo and Frankz Condori
- Biodegradable Battery – Christopher Toney and Adebola Daramola (This proposal also won a James List Award of $2,000 in legal services.)
- Caramel Brown Cosmetics – Jessica St. Sulme
- Campus Classified – Dex Dimattia, Matt Magnolia and Pat Johnson
- College Passport App – Ashley Dodd, Ian Murray, Dan Kliesh and Alex Hudson
- gFree – Eric Rubinstein
- Impact and Retract – Gabrielle Fox
- Parallel – David Knode and Michael Winter
- Soccer Office – Adam Manning and Jamie Lowe
- The Daily Brew Coffeehouse, LLC – Lorissa McAllister
Another team, ConnectUSBY, won two special prizes: the City of Salisbury Award, which included $2,000 in cash plus $3,000 in in-kind services, and the Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development (SWED) Award of $1,000 in in-kind services. The social app was proposed by Luke Clement, Michael Feeney, Matthew Greene and Chris Joyce.
Regardless of whether their proposals were selected for funding, all participants had the opportunity to win raffles with prizes donated by Shore Cycles, Layton’s Chance, Rommel’s ACE Hardware, Burley Oak Brewing Co. and Plakthat.com.
Judges heard from some 33 student teams in all. During the final awards ceremony, the local business leaders who volunteered their time as judges praised the students’ efforts.
“Every year it gets better,” said Mike Cottingham, president of Rommel Holdings, Inc. “I’m very impressed with the entrants in the Bernstein competition.”
“You’re way ahead of where I thought you would be,” said Mindie Burgoyne, senior business development representative for the Maryland Department of Commerce. “I can’t imagine what business will be like in 20 years when you’re leading those businesses.”
It’s no accident that judges are noticing a higher level of quality in the students’ presentations. Three-quarters of this year’s finalists were or currently are enrolled in the Perdue School’s entrepreneurship course, taught by Robert Morrison and Dr. Stephen Adams.
They also had the chance to participate in practice and feedback sessions during the two weeks leading up to the competition with former Invest in My Idea winner Mary-Tyler Upshaw and Jason Curtin, SU assistant vice president of development and alumni relations, and deputy director of the Salisbury University Foundation, Inc. Some 75 percent of the finalists took advantage of the opportunity.
In addition, student-to-student coaching was available to entrants for the first time, led by DeLetto as the 2015 Bernstein Award winner.
The competition is open to all SU students. In addition to members of Neuro Helmet Systems’ team, Rapid Response Aero-Medical’s principals consisted of non-business students, both computer science majors from SU’s Richard A. Henson School of Science and Technology. William Burke, director of entrepreneurship competitions, and John Hickman, director of the Small Business Development Center at SU, are working with them to become part of the area’s entrepreneurship ecosystem, a growing group of organizations offering support for small business startups.
They also have encouraged the students to enroll in the entrepreneurship course in preparation for upcoming business competitions, such as the next round of the Ratcliffe Shore Hatchery, scheduled next fall, and next year’s Entrepreneurship Competitions.
Along with praise, judges also offered advice for this year’s winners.
“Chase your dreams. There’s no first, second, third or fourth place in business,” said Gary Gaskill, chief financial officer of LWRC International, Inc., representing Bernstein.
Burke left them with a more lighthearted tip: “Don’t spend all that money in one place.”
For more information call 410-543-6030 or visit the SU website at www.salisbury.edu.