Feature Story

January 20, 2022 | By Cole Hatcher

Ohio Wesleyan seniors Cierra Joiner, Chloe Merritt, and Kenny Streb won the recent OWU Venture Pitch Competition, earning a cash prize to support the continued development of their 'Closet Capture' product.

The Perfect Pitch

Ohio Wesleyan Students Win Entrepreneur Contest with ‘Closet Capture’ Idea

Who’s the fairest of them all? Based on the recent OWU Venture Pitch Competition, it’s the technology-smart mirror envisioned by three Ohio Wesleyan University student-entrepreneurs.

Their concept of a full-length mirror loaded with artificial intelligence and augmented reality software won the class competition and earned them $750 to continue developing their “Closet Capture” product.

The Closet Capture team – comprised of seniors Cierra Joiner, Chloe Merritt, and Kenny Streb – defeated two other teams from instructor Steve Flaherty’s Business 425 Entrepreneurship class to earn the cash prize.

Formulating a Plan

“After the presentation and the feedback we got, we have decided we might actually want to try to pursue Closet Capture,” said Joiner, a Business Marketing major from Centerburg, Ohio. “Chloe, Kenny, and I have discussed possibly entering more pitch contests to get the word out about Closet Capture. We have not started any funding yet or looked into a manufacturer. I think the most important step would be to start planning out how we want to pursue the company.”

Merritt agreed, adding, “Our mirror is on the pricier side of the table, so I think it would be smart to start with the funding. A manufacturer is also important because that is how the mirror will actually be able to work and do the things we want it to for our customers. I think planning may be our very first step – what we are going to do, and most importantly how we are going to do it.”

If the OWU entrepreneurs are able to bring their product to market, Closet Capture will enable users to upload images and information about their wardrobe and then use the interactive mirror to swipe through their garments to see 360-degree views of themselves in the clothes. The goal is to help them quickly and easily choose the right outfit for any occasion.

Learning from Feedback

Merritt, a Business Marketing major from Powell, Ohio, said one of the highlights of the OWU Venture Pitch Competition was getting to present Closet Capture to a panel of three judges.

“My favorite moment would have to be actually presenting and hearing real-life feedback from successful businessmen and women,” she said. “It was really cool to actually share the company we made and all the details with actual investors and judges.”

Joiner concurred, adding, “It really stimulated what a real life pitch would be like, which I liked.”

Judges for the competition were venture expert J.D. Davids, sales consultant Ken Hasty, business consultant Ken Wentworth, along with OWU’s Glenn Bryan, associate professor of economics and business, and Megan Ellis, executive director of the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at OWU and of the Career Connection office.

‘Poised, Well-Prepared, Thoughtful’

Ellis, a 2005 Ohio Wesleyan graduate, said two things stick out as “incredibly special” from having served as a judge.

Megan Ellis ’05

“The first was how impressed and proud I was of the students,” she said. “They were poised, well-prepared, thoughtful, working so well as teammates, and making clear and powerful arguments supporting the growth of their businesses.

“The second was watching the other judges witness how amazing these students are,” Ellis continued. “It was clear that each student took this experience seriously, built a business they truly believed in, and learned from the exposure over the semester to other entrepreneurial leaders. We often talk about the core competencies most often sought after by employers, and these students embodied those qualities including excellent communication, critical-thinking, and powerful collaboration.”

Reaching for the Stars

Both Joiner and Merritt said they appreciate the breadth and depth of what they’ve learned at Ohio Wesleyan, especially their Business 425 Entrepreneurship class. Both also said they consider Flaherty a valuable mentor.

“His class this past semester helped us gain insight into what it actually is to be an entrepreneur,” Merritt said. “I am very fortunate to have had him as a professor and gotten this experience. He always told us to reach for the stars, and I think we did exactly that.”

In the pitch competition, Joiner, Merritt, and Streb competed with Closet Capture against proposals to create “Brooke & Key” and “Dorm Diner.”

OWU classmates Katie Bischoff, Hongan Cui, Sam Esterle, and Andrew Gallogly pitched “Brooke & Key,” a software product that would enable business owners to seamlessly access and analyze data from all of their various information systems.

Classmates Sana Hussain, Michael Lipscomb, Connor Volpe, and Wyatt Wells pitched “Dorm Diner,” a college campus food-delivery service that would deliver dinner straight to a student’s dorm-room door.

A Signature OWU Experience

Competition judge Ellis said she was impressed with all of the teams and looks forward to the day when “we will talk about successful high growth start-ups that originated out of this exact program.”

“The Venture Pitch Competition provides a signature experience unique to OWU,” Ellis said. “Throughout the semester, students learn how to think like an entrepreneur and how to refine the mindset that will help them succeed as business founders and as adults. Students complete this class with a new spark in their eyes. They understand that they can, in fact, create and grow a business.”

Like Ellis, class instructor (and entrepreneur) Flaherty said he was excited by all of the student projects and pitches.

‘Think Differently!’

Steve Flaherty

“This year’s teams were impressive,” Flaherty said. “The class is designed around learning from real-world experts and entrepreneurs, and applying those lessons to the businesses the students build in a 10-week modular curriculum. We had some real rock stars come and share their stories with the class, and you could see the students’ mindsets evolve and change their strategies, which is the exact goal – to think differently!

“I’m proud of how they put it all together,” he said, “and excited to see how they apply the lessons to their careers, whether they start the companies for real or not.”

Learn more about OWU’s Department of Economics and Business at owu.edu/economics and more about the Delaware Entrepreneurial Center at Ohio Wesleyan University at owu.edu/decowu.