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Sink or Swim Competition

Young “Sharks” Compete in OCC’s Sink or Swim

Sink or Swim competition logoFor fans of television’s Shark Tank, the premise of OCC’s Sink or Swim is familiar.

Participants in the Annual Sink or Swim Competition form teams, develop an idea for a product or a service, write a business plan, and present their pitch to a panel of judges composed of local business leaders. Then one of their members answers questions from that panel.

This year’s event, sponsored by the Business Innovation Consortium (BIC) and held April 23rd, was only the second of its kind, and the first held virtually. Although the approach was different, competition was still intense between ten teams of local high school students, and the judges had their work cut out for them.

The first team to present, SimpleSwimStats from Manchester Township High School, also was the first-place winner. The product presented by the two young women was a solar-powered, floating device with test strips that works with an app they developed to test the temperature and pH value in pool water, sending results in real time.

The team asked for a $400,200 investment for a 17.4% equity stake, and claimed that at a $200 retail price, it would be possible to attain a $2.3 million valuation in five years. They plan to advertise via social media platforms initially and ultimately use mainstream media. They answered judges’ questions confidently and completely:

    1. Will it work with salt water pools as well as chlorine?
      A. Yes.
    2. Can your product be duplicated easily?
      A. No. We have proprietary software and an app we designed.
    3. What makes it unique and why can’t it be duplicated?
    4. The app is simple, but we’re already planning for upgrades, including a container that can distribute chlorine or salt into the pool via the app.

The judges liked the team’s proposal, their enthusiasm and confidence, and awarded them first place of $2,000.

“The SimpleSwimStats team was energetic and polished,” says Chris D. Bottomley, program chair/college lecturer, Business Studies. “Their product and presentation were a cut above. They hit us hard and fast with information in an entertaining way, and they hit all the main points of the business plan.”

The second-place winner was Storyteller from Jackson Memorial High School whose entry consisted of a website that aggregates and curates legacy information for families, telling an individual’s personal story in an interactive manner. They were awarded $1,500.

MV Planner from Manchester Township High School won third place, and $1,000, with its entry of a calendar application for student-athletes that allows coaches to keep track of schedules and scheduling conflicts.

This year’s judges were Jim Mahlmann, managing director at Net Cetra; Michael Forcella, OCC manager of Business Engagement, Workplace and Professional Education; Lori Pepenella, CEO of the Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce; and Katie Calabrese, director of Memberships and Projects, National Association for Community College Entrepreneurs. The program is managed by Bottomley, who also reviewed each team’s business plan, helped by members of OCC’s Entrepreneur’s Club, and Sean Bips, college lecturer and chair of OCC’s Hospitality, Recreation & Tourism Management program.

The event was run from OCC’s Instructional Building Room 115 with Bottomley moderating, Bips as web host and several OCC members in attendance, including Dr. Jon Larson, OCC President, and Rosann Bar, Ph.D., dean of the School of Business and Social Science; Joseph Konopka, Ph.D., vice president of Academic Affairs; and Nanci Carmody, assistant dean, Business and Social Science.

Room 115 has been upgraded with technology that provides a more complete interactive experience when participating in a hybrid in-person/virtual event. The camera is situated at the bottom of the whiteboard/display at the front of the classroom and scans 180 degrees to focus on whomever is talking. Classrooms will be fitted out with this technology by the fall 2021 semester allowing for a more fluid classroom experience.

Besides being fun for all involved, Sink or Swim is good for OCC’s business students who work on event planning and then experience the young entrepreneurs’ presentations.

“This event fosters an entrepreneurial spirit across the board,” says Bottomley. “And it helps to garner interest in BIC, which is getting more effective and efficient all the time.

“People like this for the same reasons they like Shark Tank,” he adds. “It’s fun, interesting and entertaining. You find yourself asking, ‘How in the world did they think of that?’”

The Business Innovation Consortium was created in 2019 because Business Studies recognized the need to coordinate efforts of these clubs, improving their effectiveness:

  • Entrepreneurship Club — Seeks to cultivate the entrepreneurial spirit
  • PBL — Advances the academic and professional knowledge within the business community
  • HRTM — Brings awareness to the world of hospitality through experience and travel
  • Legal — Promotes the relevance of the law to the campus community.

Today, BIC has about 95 members, and is growing. The group meets the last Wednesday of the month. For more information, contact Chris D. Bottomley at or Sean Bips at

Business Innovation Consortium logo e-club, legal, hospitality club

About the Event

The Sink or Swim competition provides high school students with the opportunity to showcase their business acumen while vying for a chance to win awards and recognition, including the title of “High School Entrepreneurial Team of the Year.” All ten teams will be awarded prizes, with monetary awards given for first, second, and third place. A special scholarship will be given to the student who presents the best pitch for their group’s project.

How It Works:

Students will develop an entrepreneurial product or service. The more original the idea, the better! Each team will complete and submit a business plan. From among the entries, our first set of judges, both faculty and Ocean/Kean student members of the Entrepreneurial Club, will select the top ten business plans for the actual competition. Those ten teams will be notified that they have been chosen to present their product or service at our virtual event on April 23. Each team will select one student from their group to present a one-minute elevator pitch to our second set of judges, which includes prominent members of the Ocean County Community. The judges will have an opportunity to critique/question students about their idea.

This year’s judges are Mr. Jim Mahlmann, Managing Director at Net Cetra, Michael Forcella, OCC Manager of Business Engagement, Continuing/Professional Ed, Mrs. Lori Pepenella, CEO of the Southern Ocean Chamber of Commerce, and Ms. Katie Calabrese, Director of Memberships and Projects, NACCE.

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