What is JWU Sharkfest? 3 Things to Know About This Competition

Just like the famous show Shark Tank, JWU Sharkfest allows students to pitch their business ideas to a panel of industry professionals. However, unlike Shark Tank, this annual student competition doles out first-, second- and third-place cash prizes for winners to use as seed money to further develop their business idea.

Though the competition has only been around for a decade or so, it represents JWU’s deep roots in business education and opportunity — after all, we were originally founded as a business school in 1914. In addition to JWU Sharkfest, we also foster entrepreneurial innovation with competitions like Future Food All-Stars, which was hosted this year by celebrity chef Tyler Florence. 

Some JWU Sharkfest finalists, such as Matt Tortora ’15, have found major success with their businesses after taking part in JWU Sharkfest. As a student in 2015, he pitched Whats Good, an app that would connect chefs to local food producers and artisans to lower costs and improve efficiency in the restaurant industry. Today, the company has grown into a successful business that serves thousands of people across the country.

This year’s JWU Sharkfest was an impressive battle of entrepreneurial spirit that will hopefully yield another successful future business. The first-place winners were Maya Alderman '23, Asia Vo '23 and Jessica Hess '23. They created and pitched Hemply Rooted, a hemp-infused condiment company. You can check out the video to see highlights from this year’s JWU Sharkfest.

If you’re thinking of competing next year, or you’re a prospective student who has stumbled on this article while doing some research on JWU (you should totally apply!), here are three things you should know about JWU Sharkfest.

1. Students in any major can participate.

You don’t have to be in a business program to compete — in fact, the first-place Hemply Rooted team members we mentioned above are all Culinary Science and Product Development majors.

Plus, there are a wide variety of categories to choose from when entering the contest:

  • General Business – Wearables, Business Services
  • Technology – Prosthetics/Assistive Devices, Smart Devices (Apps, sensors, robotics),
  • Hydro or Aquaponics, Environmental Analysis Tools, Medical Technology
  • Hospitality – Guest Service Solutions
  • Culinary Arts – Food Products or Services
  • Social Ventures – Medical Tech Communications (ex. Vaccines, Conservation),
  • Consulting – Advocacy – Climate Change, Sustainability, Equity
  • Wellness/Wellbeing
  • General Innovation

2. The competitors pitch their ideas in front of a live audience.

After all entries are reviewed and screened, a committee chooses up to five finalists to take part in the on-stage live pitch competition. These finalists each have five minutes to make their pitch in front of a panel of judges and an audience followed by five to seven minutes to answer the judges’ questions about the business (just like Shark Tank!). The judges then award the first and second prizes, and the audience votes in real-time for the third-place winner!

The 2022 JWU Sharkfest first place winners with their prize check presented by Providence Campus President Marie Bernardo Sousa

3. Even though it’s a competition, every JWU Sharkfest finalist still walks away with something valuable.

No matter who wins, every finalist receives $250 to prepare for their pitch, and they are also eligible for coaching, mentoring, pitch training, assistance with business plans, access to coworking space and basic office support at JWU’s Larry Friedman Center for Entrepreneurship at the Providence Campus, or the Innovation & Entrepreneur Center at the Charlotte Campus.

And, whether you receive an award or not, having the chance to pitch your idea in front of an audience and interact with business professionals makes every finalist a winner at JWU Sharkfest. 

We’re producing the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. Want to join us?