Student entrepreneurs awarded seed money for winning business proposals at Flagler’s annual Lion’s Cage Competition

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April 25, 2023
By Anna Boone
During Flagler’s Business Week 2023, three student teams were collectively awarded more than $5,000 in seed money to bring their entrepreneurial ideas to life.

This winning group of students competed against more than 40 peers across 16 teams in Business Week’s “reverse-pitch competition.” Ahead of Business Week, teams were tasked with creating a business solution to one of four key issues: affordable housing, homeowners’ insurance, resiliency in coastal communities, and the future of work. 

Attendees of the competition’s first event, the Saints Showcase, were asked to complete a ranked-choice ballot, voting to advance only five teams to the Lion’s Cage Competition. This final event was meant to mimic the TV show “Shark Tank” with a first place $2,500 prize, second place $1,750 prize, and third place $1,000 prize as “seed money” to put the students’ winning ideas into action. 

At the Lion’s Cage Competition, each team had five minutes to pitch their business proposals to the panel of judges and five minutes to answer questions from the judges following their presentations. 

The panel comprised five local leaders and professionals in business, including the College’s Business Advisory Board Chair, Vice Chair, and the most recent former Chair. Of the five judges, two were Flagler alums: Tanya Fjare’ 01- general manager of property with Progressive Home, and Bryant Vasquez’ 17- staff accountant with Business Week’s presenting sponsor Rulon International

The winning teams were announced at an awards ceremony following the Lion’s Cage Competition.    

The first-place prize was awarded to sophomores Gabe Gervai and Matthew Katz with “INFLATAFLOOD,” a business tackling resiliency in coastal communities with inflatable flood prevention devices. 

Second place went to sophomores Andres Ramirez-Cardenal and Madison Test, juniors Moa Arlebo and Alex Nolgren, and senior Tomas Cavanagh with “Virtual Office Hub+,” a software interface addressing the mental health toll of remote working. Coming in third place was freshman Jacob Goldman with “Layoff Lookout,” a program using aggregated government-required employer data to warn employees of layoffs at least 60 days before they occur. 

Flagler Trustee and Founder of Vested Metals International, Viv Helwig, gave a keynote speech following the pitches as the judges deliberated their decision.  

“You are tackling the critical issues of our day,” Helwig said. “I saw technology platforms, construction companies, apps, ideas, and prototypes for manufactured products that many of you might have never thought could exist or that you would pursue.” 

Helwig graduated from Flagler with a Business Administration degree in 2008, during the onset of the Great Recession. He used anecdotes from his early years out of college to offer words of encouragement and reassurance.  

“It was probably one of the worst times to graduate college in the previous 80 years,” Helwig said. “The International Monetary Fund concluded that it was the most severe economic and financial meltdown since the Great Depression.” 

Upon graduating, Helwig earned his real estate license to become a real estate developer. But the mortgage crisis intensified, and the economy started its downturn. His stint in real estate only lasted two months, and Helwig said he found himself working as a Flagler admissions counselor and assistant coach to the men’s basketball team. 

“I learned a lot of valuable skills such as interpersonal communication, efficient traveling, prioritizing public speaking, and so many more as I traveled throughout the northeast to recruit students to Flagler,” Helwig said. “And it was through Flagler College, through a relationship with former history professor Steve Logan, that I was introduced to specialty skills in hardware technology and began my career.” 

Helwig said people often question how he found success in a “material science industry” when he came out of a liberal arts school.  

“I would argue that the fundamental skills and breadth of thought that your faculty is teaching you here will take you to places you can’t imagine- industries, jobs, careers, destinations, and beyond,” Helwig said. “And that was on display this week in the ideas, projects, and solutions you all have provided and proposed.” 

As a senior at Flagler, Helwig competed on the Society for Advancement and Management case team when they won the National Championship. 

“Our case was on Krispy Kreme Donuts and their business model,” Helwig said. “And it’s not that donuts aren’t a vital component of our life, but I would argue what you’re tackling is far more important.” 

Helwig said the topics tackled by students in the Saints Showcase “are probably the most impactful of our day.” 

After attending the Saints Showcase, Helwig was encouraged by the excitement for the positive change he saw in all the teams’ presentations. 

“The passion in that room I would liken to July humidity in Florida,” Helwig said. “You could feel it in the air, almost on your skin- it was so intense.”