ZuVenturez: Swimming with the Sharks

by Evan Black '17

Azusa Pacific University’s ZuVenturez, a start-up business plan competition for students, returns this semester. With a nod to the television series Shark Tank, ZuVenturez strives to support emerging entrepreneurs by offering a platform to create, test, and pitch their business plans to top-level professionals and venture capitalists in hopes of winning $15,000 to put toward the idea.

Annie Tsai, Ph.D., the vice president of alumni, vocation, and innovation, heads up this six-week program of training workshops along with Janice Orlando, member of the School of Business and Management’s Board of Visitors, and her team, Matthew Chormann, MBA ’14, and Shannon Davidson, a psychology major.

“Millennials want to be entrepreneurs,” said Tsai. “The innovative nature of this generation makes ZuVenturez a relevant and practical program.” Tsai is confident that this second launch will build on last spring’s foundation, and is excited to watch a new wave of students make a difference with their bold ideas. Orlando describes the aim of ZuVenturez as “elevating and empowering students to create Christ-centered businesses that support their life purpose,” which ultimately brings glory to God.

This focus on Christian innovation helps ZuVenturez stand out from other competitions. “The purpose, mission, and vision needs to be bigger than ‘I just want to make a lot of money,’” Chormann said, stating that a winning pitch will identify and meet a need in the community. “Zuventurez is initiated from a place of wanting to serve,” said Orlando. This year’s competition gives students the opportunity to hear speakers such as Matt Holguin, CEO of Working to Give; Bill Hetzel, founder and president of MB4 Productions; and Jeff Griffith, founder and managing partner at Fuel360 Media, along with gaining advice from last year’s winner, Robert Cardiff, creator of Whip Rides, a transportation networking app that connects student drivers with those needing rides. Whip Rides launched at the start of September and Cardiff is excited to see the projected growth of his idea spring to life.

“The innovative nature of this generation makes ZuVenturez a relevant and practical program.” Annie Tsai, Ph.D.

“Everyone involved wants our students to succeed,” said Tsai, which is evident in the sponsorship and volunteer help coming from multiple areas on campus. ZuVenturez continues to gain momentum by enlarging its sphere of influence. One aspect of this progress lies in the partnership with Telos Ventures, a Silicon Valley-based, Christian venture capital company. Together, Telos Ventures and Azusa Pacific plan to launch a nationwide business plan competition for faith-based institutions called Elevate, modeled after the March Madness college basketball bracket system. APU will host the western regional competition. Students are encouraged to compete in Elevate during the spring semester for $20,000, and the winner of that stage will advance to the final four to pitch their idea for $50,000 in Silicon Valley. “That’s part of the innovation. Bigger, better, nation-wide,” said Tsai.

Generating excitement among students, faculty, and alumni of APU, ZuVenturez is on the fast track to success. With increased participation, expansion on last year’s achievements and a team wholeheartedly working for the students’ benefits, it is time ZuVenturez proved it belongs with the sharks.