Trinity University Adapts to the COVID-19 Pandemic with Virtual Stumberg Competition

Instead of pitching to the usually packed audience of students, entrepreneurs, and judges, 10 Trinity University student entrepreneur teams presented their business ideas to judges via a Zoom video call Thursday evening in the annual Louis H. Stumberg Venture Competition.

Of the 10 competitors, six Trinity University student entrepreneur teams each won $5,000 in seed funding. Since its launch in the spring of 2015, this two-part university-wide competition typically features 10 venture teams pitching their business concepts before a panel of judges with entrepreneurial expertise.

The six winning teams have wide-ranging businesses:

  • Chiropack was founded by sophomore Neha Kapur who is majoring in business analytics and technology. Her idea is to reengineer the daily-wear backpack for students and working professionals who experience back, shoulder, or neck pain.
  • CompassVet was co-founded by junior Tiffany Perez, who is a military veteran majoring in communications. CompassVet provides reliable at-home pet euthanasia services to customers in greater San Antonio.
  • Empower Media was co-founded by sophomores Sebastian Trujillo, Austin Sanders, and John Jay. Their company provides entertainment venues of 40,000 attendees or more with customizable portable charging and storage devices.
  • Revive Snacks was co-founded by sophomores Kincannon Wilson and Amy Platter. Revive Snacks offers a line of healthy snacks to promote overall health.
  • Sapphire was co-founded by sophomore Tara Lujan and senior Zachary Taylor. Sapphire is a smart replacement lid that fits most bottle brands that automatically records fluid intake to help users track their hydration levels.
  • Tacos Papi was co-founded by Alvaro Marquez and Francisco Macías who both plan to graduate this December. Tacos Papi offers Mexican street tacos with delivery service in San Antonio.

This year, due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the competition has shifted to an all-remote Zoom video call, supported by virtual mentoring. The six finalists will compete for the $25,000 grand prize in the Stumberg fall competition.

Trinity’s Center for Science and Innovation had to work quickly to adjust to the new realities of social distancing during a pandemic, said Luis Martinez, director of Trinity’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

“Our team started contingency planning for a possible shift in how the competition would run when Trinity started spring break on March 6,” Martinez said. “We simplified the public competition to a private, online presentation format for only the judges, with a public reveal on social media following their deliberations. The teams had to shift their entire pitch to an online format.”

Martinez, Carmen Aramanda, the center’s programs manager, along with current entrepreneur in residence (EIR) Mary Ullmann Japhet and former EIRs mentored the students on their pitches. Japhet worked with the students as they were moving off-campus and adjusting to online education from their new residences, she said.

“I am amazed at their resilience,” Japhet said. “They’ve handled a number of disruptions in a matter of weeks all while preparing their pitches, and they did it so well.”

The need to quickly adapt Trinity’s entrepreneurship program to a virtual one highlighted what Martinez sees as an emerging trend that will remain relevant even after the stay at home restrictions are lifted.

“The current crisis has revealed how important online pitching is,” Martinez said. “It’s something we are going to incorporate for all our students.”

Each spring, the winning Trinity student teams receive a $5,000 award, as well as a spot in the program’s summer accelerator, along with summer housing on campus, mentorship, and a credit hour. However, Trinity has suspended all “in-residence” aspects of its summer research and internship programs due to the ongoing pandemic. 

“Our summer accelerator will still move forward as a virtual program with our teams collaboratively building their ventures,” Martinez said. “Working remotely with various stakeholders is an important skill set for our students to acquire, and we’re looking forward to the opportunity to take the lessons learned from this year and incorporate it into future summer accelerators.”

The competition is named after the late San Antonio businessman and civic leader Louis H. Stumberg, who was also a member of Trinity’s board of trustees for many years. Stumberg was a well-known entrepreneur in San Antonio who founded Patio Foods and its line of Tex-Mex frozen dinners in the 1940s at the end of the Great Depression in the U.S. 

“We believe that entrepreneurs and founders will lead the way out of the economic downturn brought upon by COVID-19,” Martinez said. “There is no better time for these students to start their businesses than now.”

Featured image shows Trinity University’s Stumberg Venture Competition webpage.

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Iris Gonzalez

Iris Gonzalez is a writer based in San Antonio, Texas, covering innovation in emerging tech, cybersecurity, and bioscience startup companies in San Antonio.

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