Pitch perfect

Pitch CompetitionMike Gasparovich is a skater at heart.

When the University of Michigan-Dearborn junior isn’t on campus, you can probably find him on skate parks in Dearborn Heights or Garden City.

And if there’s one thing Gasparovich has learned over the years, it’s that extreme sports come with their share of bumps and bruises.

Some skaters wear helmets to protect themselves from injuries, but bulky headgear doesn’t bode well with Gasparovich.

“Helmets kind of look ridiculous and at the same time, when I’m wearing a helmet, my equilibrium is thrown off,” said the accounting and management major.

That’s what inspired Gasparovich to design his own helmet. He presented his business idea, Solved Hats, Tuesday evening during the College of Business’ (COB) Pitch Day competition.

Gasparovich took memory foam and stitched it into a beanie hat to construct his makeshift helmet.

“It got to the point where I was starting to do things on a bigger scale and I personally wanted some head protection, but couldn’t find anything outside of a full-blown helmet,” he said. “Just by putting this on and hitting your head, you can feel that it takes a lot of the impact out.”

The helmet impressed some of his fellow skaters, who weren’t even aware that Gasparovich was wearing protective headgear until he showed them the inside of his beanie.

He also tried to impress the Pitch Day panel of judges, which was comprised of area business leaders and successful entrepreneurs.

Gasparovich wasn’t alone. UM-Dearborn students pitched 13 business ideas, ranging from a marathon that features extreme obstacle courses to an iPhone app that allows people to create events and invite their friends at the click of a button.

“If there’s anything we learned from this Pitch Competition, it’s that our students have some really unique business ideas,” said Tim Davis, director of iLabs, the university’s center for innovation research who also moderated the Pitch Competition. “These aren’t your run-of-the-mill pitches.”

Some students, including Gasparovich, were rewarded with cash prizes for their business pitches, as voted upon by the judges. Gasparovich placed third and took home $1,000. Top prize of $2,500 went to graduate student Steven Spurr for his company, Coffee Keepers, which markets Keurig cup holders.

Tuesday’s Pitch Competition ties in closely with the college’s tradition of innovation.

“I hope this is the first of many events where we give our students an opportunity to be bold and explore their passion,” said COB Dean Raju Balakrishnan. “They’re going to have to take their idea, refine it and convince a lot of people that their idea works. This is hopefully the first step in a long journey for many of them.”

Funding and other resource support was provided by UM-Dearborn alumnus Thomas A. Quinlan (’78 B.B.A.), the Betty F. Elliott Initiative, Michigan Initiative for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and the student-led Professional Development Workshops, in partnership with iLabs and COB.

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