BYRON DOERFER ’14
Fantasy football has become a growing fad among American culture, so much so that even such shows like “The League” on FX, whose humor is centered around fantasy football, have become popular. However, there is still a large demographic that has no idea as to what fantasy football exactly entails. Jake Shimmel ’14 and Alex Barker ’14, winners of the first Entrepreneurship Competition, know plenty of people like this. That is why they designed the next big thing in fantasy football with their new startup company, Underdog. This new service is all about getting people who might not know, or care, about football into the fantasy arena.
While most Trinity Students were out on the quad this Saturday, Underdog and three other startup companies put on their “business best” and pitched their dreams to a packed crowd in the Washington Room. These young men and women had a difficult task: convince a team of veteran entrepreneurs, along with all of us in the crowd, that their idea was worth ten thousand dollars of investment money from the school. These four teams were the finalists of the competition that began in September. Opening the events was George Bell, an experienced entrepreneur and father of two current Trinity students. Despite having extensive success leading companies such as Upromise, Excite@Home, and founding what is now NBC Sports, Bell talked largely about how his story was packed with failures. Bell warned the finalists of the cold truth: that most of them would be walking away as losers. The important thing, Bell said, was that they remembered that the competition was just an excuse to jump start their ideas. Not receiving the investment from Trinity did not mean that their ideas were not worthwhile.
Up until Underdog’s name was pulled from the winner’s envelope, it was not clear who was going to win. The three other teams that made it to the final round presented wildly different products. There was the Dream Team, made up of Will Gleysteen ’14, Dave Bell ’14, and Sonjay Singh ’15, who designed a new social network based around filling the gaps presented by LinkedIn. With teammate Dave Bell looking on, Gleysteen and Singh handled getting grilled by the judges with ease.
Next up was coAPPerate, chaired by Nate Nurmi ’14, who designed an interface that attempts to bring a variety of social apps into the same streamlined system. Despite his partner, John DiPietro ’15, being unable to attend, Nurmi made his case and weathered a battery of questions from the judges. While all the teams made impassioned appeals, Nurmi understood that his competition was stiff. Before the event began, The Tripod asked Nurmi why he thought he was going to win. “I’m not sure I will,” he said. “”Honestly. Some people have really good ideas here.”
Not all of the pitches involved social media. KGG Solutions, made up of Gwen Schoch ’14, Gillian Burkett ’14, and Vlad Burca ’14, designed a counter insurgency advisory system that would help members of the military better understand and execute their missions at the platoon level. KGG definitely had the most ambitious business plan, and wanted Trinity’s help to start a venture they saw as something with enough potential to be bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars within just a few years.
As the votes were tallied, the tense mood was broken by CTImprov, a professional improv comedy troupe. CTImprov was just the right amount of silly needed to lighten the spirits of everyone who had come in from the beautiful day to support their friends in the competition.
At the end of the day, it was Shimmel and Barker of Underdog that went home with the big check. The panel of three judges grilled Underdog particularly hard after following their six-minute presentation. The two men explained that a big way for fantasy sports to evolve is bringing people who have never tried it into the fold. Their system, built around football at the college level, has users choose the winners of matches rather than predict how individual players will fare in games. This simplified version of Fantasy Football is meant to get people like me involved with my friends in the fantasy experience, without having to learn the confusing point systems involved in the traditional game. With the $10,000, Shimmel and Barker hoped to have a testable version of their fantasy game combined with a mobile application in the near future.
Mike Newkirk ’14, a senior at Trinity who attended the event, said that he thought Shimmel and Barker walked home with the prize because they tailored their business directly to the competition’s limited nature.
Shimmel and Barker have a fantastic start to a budding business and will surely put the $10,000 to good use.