Three batches of scrumptious snacks traveled on trays across the Ferman Presentation Room during the CSUN Fast Pitch finals hosted by CSUN’s David Nazarian College of Business and Economics on Nov. 19, tempting audience members to take a tasty sample as they listened attentively to the student team behind the treats.
Beegan Bites are organic snacks made from non-genetically modified (non-GMO) gluten-free rolled oats, coconut, walnuts, dates, Himalayan salt, cinnamon and — the inspiration for the brand’s name — ethically sourced honey. The snacks come in three flavors: peanut butter, cacao and, fitting for the autumn season, pumpkin spice.
The business uses certified honey (labeled “True Source Certified”) from bees that feed from organic flowers and are kept in spacious bee farms, said Melissa Schwarz, a senior majoring in theatre, and founder and CEO of Beegan Bites. Her team avoided using dairy and eggs, due to the tremendous negative impact the meat and dairy industries have on our planet, she said. They also use biodegradable, cornstarch-based packaging to do their part in reducing landfill waste.
“My original intention was to create an organic treat for myself that didn’t have ingredients such as added sugars, unnatural preservatives, dyes, soy and GMOs,” said Schwarz (dubbed “the Queen of the Hive” by her team, which includes fellow Matador Melissa Padilla. Their other teammates are Maya Sparadeo and Devin Dean, both of whom Schwarz met outside of CSUN.)
“I didn’t really intend to make it a business at the beginning, but after my friends and family tried it and really liked it, they all urged me to [market the product]. Now, here I am,” she said.
Beegan Bites was one of the competition’s two food-related startups catering to a health-conscious and environmentally aware clientele — and it shared the first-place honors in the 2019 CSUN Nazarian College Fast Pitch new venture competition with the other, a company called Nourish.
In the Nazarian College Fast Pitch competition, eight finalist teams compete for $4,000 in prizes. Fast Pitch is designed to help Matador-created, -managed and -owned ventures receive meaningful feedback from industry professionals and prepare for the CSUN Nazarian College Bull Ring New Venture Competition in the spring semester, where student teams vie for $70,000 in cash prizes.
Each Fast Pitch team delivered a three-minute “elevator pitch” speech to introduce their startup or brand to an audience and a panel of judges, which included Andy Mysza, former owner of travel agency Montrose Travel; Cesar Montoya, founder of telecommunications company Ringaro; Nishit Rathod, founder and CEO of Triumph, which offers workshops and programs for entrepreneurial and personal growth; and Rozanne Englehart, owner and director of Yoga Sol Studio.
After the pitch, the floor was open for judges to ask team members questions and learn more about their ventures.
Nourish targets the issue of food waste by delivering excess food supply from restaurants and other food establishments to nonprofit organizations. The Nourish team is made up of CSUN students Leanna Merza, Magdah Al Sinaidi, Anh Nguyen and Christopher Moreno, who are all minoring in entrepreneurship.
In their pitch, the team described their business model, which functions through a web application where businesses can schedule pickups for their surplus ingredients and food items, and track their delivery to local nonprofits. Revenue would be made through a 10 percent commission of the cost of food donated, pickup and delivery fees, disposal fees and contract deals with companies that wish to use its services regularly, the students said.
The other finalist teams were: Van Robotics, which is developing an electromechanical exoskeleton to reduce physical stress on the bodies of first responders, police and military; Titan Helmets, which has developed a motorcycle helmet prototype that integrates an air-purification system; LOD (Line of Defense), which is creating a system that can protect homes from wildfires; Keyream, a physical wallet that can carry cryptocurrency; EZPZ, a wristband that helps parents and guardians keep track of children when going to amusement parks; and MeSave, a mobile app that guides college students to available parking spaces.
Ryan Holbrook, director of the Nazarian College’s entrepreneurship program, said the 2019 finalists produced two firsts for Fast Pitch: In addition to the first-place tie between Beegan Bites and Nourish (earning each team a check for $1,500), two teams — Nourish and Keyream — tied in the “audience choice” category (online vote), which earned each a $250 prize.
The judges’ deliberation process also went overtime, as the panel found it challenging to choose between the finalists, Holbrook said. The ties between the victors and the audience-choice winners were “a testament to the competitiveness and diversity of the finalist teams this year,” he said.
“It takes a lot of courage to get up in front of 120 strangers and pitch an early-stage venture,” Holbrook said. “And doing so can often be the spark leading to something extraordinary.
Echoing Holbrook’s sentiments, Nazarian College Dean Chandra Subramaniam also expressed his pride.
“I continue to be impressed by the students that compete in our new venture competitions,” Subramaniam said. “Not only are they gaining the tools and experience to be successful outside of their education, they are also serving as role models and showing their peers that their ideas can lead to the creation of a new business.”