The art of entrepreneurship: CalArts students pitch their companies to local tech leaders

Saurabh Suri, left, Chief Investment Officer and Managing Partner of CerraCap Ventures gives instructions to the three judges, right, as presenters look on before their "Shark-Tank" like pitch presentations held at CalArts on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal
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After three months of hardcore, hands-on learning and preparation, five CalArts students had the opportunity to pitch their company proposals to local tech industry leaders for a chance at future venture capital competitions.

On Thursday, students Lily Maase and Justin Hariz, who are taking a course titled “Creative Entrepreneurship,” were named the top two who would move on to receive future mentoring to enhance their pitches in hopes of launching their companies.

There to evaluate their proposals were judges Alan Lewis, co-founder of the Aeon Family of Funds; Holly Schroeder, president and CEO of the Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation; and Erick Arndt, founder of StartupSCV.

The criteria consisted of scoring pitches on a scale of 1 to 5 for the idea or product, the strength of the business model, the overall delivery of the pitch and whether the idea was fundable.

Presentor Nathan Turczan promotes his music software during the “Shark-Tank” like pitch presentations held at CalArts on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal

Maase, a guitarist who has heavy metal guitar championship titles and has taught others how to play for more than two decades, pitched to judges GD Publications, or as she described it, “music theory you can use.” The digital, teaching model service aims to “address the attrition crisis among first-time guitarists with a learning platform that allows students to meet the instrument on their own terms.”

With only 15 minutes to pitch, Masse presented why +GD Publications works, revenue model and a three-year funding plan.

Hariz sold judges with his proposal HitMakers, a website and app that helps match music artists for their collaboration needs.

“This comes from personal experience,” he said. “I’m a songwriter and artist and its difficult finding people when you start out. Most people hit each other up on Instagram or Twitter and things don’t fall through. HitMakers bridges the gap where beginning artists can work with someone else or just jam out and have fun. ”

Virtually every industry, from passion to employment, has a matchmaking app. Music, on the other hand, does not, said Hariz. His simple, but relatable company concept and overall presentation took him to the top of the competition.

Other participating students were Jason Fujita, who presented a one-stop freelance job board for students; Andrew Piepenbrink, who pitched an intelligent automation fader for live entertainment professionals; and Nathan Turczan, who showcased a music software platform that’s like “Adobe for your ears.”

Judges expressed high remarks for what students presented, proposals the five competitors said they were confident about thanks to the “valuable skills” they learned in the “Creative Entrepreneurship” class.

The course is taught by Ajay Kapur, associate dean of Research and Development in Digital Arts, and Saurabh Suri, chief investment officer and managing partner of CerraCap Ventures.

“It’s a very interesting challenge—we’re teaching students who are at the top in their field creatively, and showing them how to combine their artistic skills with entrepreneurship,” said Kapur who is also co-founder of Santa Clarita-based educational start-up Kadenze.

Suri said the course is all about execution. “CalArts focuses on design, creativity, on ideas. And then you come to the entrepreneurship side of the world, which focuses more on execution. This was about how do you take an idea and turn it into a product? How do you take a product and make it into a business?”

Thursday’s pitch competition was the first of its kind at CalArts and professors Kapur and Suri said they plan on bringing it back.

On a larger scale, the two said guiding these students into the path toward launching their companies is one aspect of making Santa Clarita into a “legitimate startup destination.”

“Santa Clarita is placed in an interesting placed,” said Kapur. “We’re so close to Disney and everything that’s happening in Burbank and Glendale in the entertainment industry. We want Santa Clarita to become an extension of that and we feel that CalArts can feed that.”  

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