The Brilliant Business Ideas from JWU Sharkfest

True to its approach to real-world education, JWU gives students the chance to grow and think outside the box. Each spring, both campuses host JWU SharkFest, which is a Shark Tank-style competition where students have just five minutes to pitch their business ideas and field questions from judges who have experience with entrepreneurship and/or work at local businesses. Students of all majors are invited to participate.

Charlotte Campus JWU SharkFest

With much excitement, Charlotte’s JWU SharkFest returned after a 3-year hiatus related to the pandemic.

Judging Panel

  • Spencer Disher, adjunct professor and board member, NC Idea
  • Manwell Bynum, head of business acceleration, Atrium Health
  • Mary Meixell, dean, College of Business, Johnson & Wales

First Place: A Winning Solution to Kids’ Healthy Eating

First-place winner Aneelia Ma ’23 pitched an idea for “Neelia’s,” a local healthy cooking service for kids and their families. She proposed the business in three phases, which would allow her to grow the brand and increase revenue. A Food & Beverage Entrepreneurship student, Ma learned the importance of healthy eating from her parents and from working with local schools. She saw an opportunity to change children’s nutrition to ensure they’re getting what they need to grow into healthy adults.

Ma hopes to bring her business to the Charlotte community with family cooking classes, a locally sourced café, and a presence at local farmers’ markets. For the future, Ma even proposed a camp-like service that would pick kids up from their schools and take them to a cooking space to learn about healthy eating.

Aneelia Ma holding her winner's check with her professors standing with her

Second place: Wine Education for Novice Enthusiasts

Cody Snider ’23 came in second place for his visionary wine company, “Grapes Cellar, LLC”. This Charleston-based business is more than an average wine store. Snider, an Entrepreneurship major and Sommelier Management minor, wants to help educate those who might not know a lot about wine and provide customers with reasonably priced options.

Grapes Cellar’s price range would start at $8 and would have a space to host educational classes, events and brands that would otherwise go unnoticed. Snider wants their classes and tastings to help change the conversation around the ideal wine drinker and educate customers on different types of wine and trends within the industry. 

Third Place: An App for Checking Out What to Do in Charlotte

Business Administration major Destin Hemingway ’23 came in third place for his idea, “IndaCity.” His business will provide recommendations on the best dining, nightlife and outings in Charlotte. He came up with the idea as a student who was always looking for things to do and not being able to find updated information online. He wants the app to provide the dress code, admission price, hours of operation and menus. He plans for college students and young people in cities such as Charlotte to be his target market.

Hemingway has tested his app, idea and pricing model on classmates. “James Woods helped me directly because I went through everything I pitched in his Entrepreneurship Seminar course," said Hemingway. "I think most classes I have taken helped me in some way. To be more specific, the entrepreneurship and marketing classes I have taken in the last four semesters.”

Finalist: A One-Stop Beauty Bar

The final presenter, Business Administration major Keyarie Robinson ‘23 pitched her idea, “Lipstick on a Glass,” a one-stop shop beauty bar that provides nail, hair, spa, makeup, styling and photography services. The shop would also offer services for weddings, proms, and other special events. Her staff would include estheticians, beauticians, massage therapists and stylists hired from the Charlotte area to provide great services.

Robinson’s interest in this idea started in high school, where she received her cosmetology license. “I’ve had a lot of input from teachers and professors over the years on this idea. I came up with it in high school, so I’ve been building on it. As I was perfecting this idea, JWU faculty feedback was very helpful in getting it to where it is today, and that made me feel comfortable competing in JWU SharkFest,” she shared.

Providence Campus JWU Sharkfest

“These students are true entrepreneurs and show that indeed the will to create is encoded in the human DNA,” said College of Business Dean Mary Meixwell as she kicked off Providence’s JWU Sharkfest. “Entrepreneurship, creativity and innovation are also in the DNA of the College of Business.” 

Judging Panel

  • Keno Mullings, CEO and lead software architect, The Mullings Group 
  • Jennifer Parisi, associate professor, College of Food Innovation & Technology, JWU 
  • Anne Mahoney ’05, owner/operator, Anne Lydia LLC 
  • Annette Tonti, managing director, RIHub

First Place: A Sneakerhead’s Dream Product

Sawyer Cosgrove ’23 took first place with his innovative idea for a new way to protect your sneakers: Lace Case.

“Lace Case is a unique product aimed at people who are passionate about sneakers to help protect and transport their shoes,” Cosgrove shared. The Entrepreneurship major designed and developed a prototype, which was a clear plastic container for consumers to place a sneaker in and secure with clips and straps. The case also features a carabiner so you can hook your sneaker onto a bag or backpack when traveling.

 Sawyer Cosgrove '23 holding his prototype for Lace Case, a plastic case to protect shoes

Second Place: A System to Keep You Focused

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders in children, according to the Center for Disease Control. But instead of prescribing medication to children, Keely Doyle ’24 believes there’s a better alternative. The Product Design major pitched her system, OnTask, to the judges and earned second place for this great idea.

“OnTask is motivation without medication,” Doyle said. “It is a system-designed product to help kids with ADHD do their responsibilities, stay on task, and complete what they need to complete.” 

Third Place: A New Take on Granola Snacks

Grayson Briggs ’23, an Entrepreneurship major with an A.S. in Culinary Arts, brought his love for business and food together to create Royal Panda Bites. According to Briggs’ presentation, these granola snacks will set themselves apart from what’s already on the market because they offer better ingredients and better taste while still being healthier than other options.

Many popular brands that are considered “healthy” are either lacking in taste or have unhealthy additives. Royal Panda Bites hopes to change the game with whole, natural ingredients that are both really delicious and really good for you.

Finalist: A Website to Simplify Restaurant Reservations

If you’ve ever had trouble finding a restaurant that can accommodate a large party, then you’ll love this business idea from Alex Coutcher ’25. The Finance major’s pitch was for a website called "Can You Accommodate?"

“It will help people, families, and big group settings try to find places to eat quicker and easier, while making smart and safe decisions,” Coutcher explained. “The website will also have drop-down menus which will allow you and your big family or group to find niche accommodations that you would like to have when you go out to eat at certain restaurants in your area.”  

Watch highlights from JWU Sharkfest in Providence:


JWU Sharkfest will return in the spring of 2024. If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur or dream of owning your own business, don’t miss your chance to participate — join our community of innovators!