Students to pitch ideas in true ‘Shark Tank’ fashion

Daymond John stars on ABC's Shark Tank.
Daymond John stars on ABC’s Shark Tank.

COOKEVILLE – A select group of Tennessee Tech students are getting a true “Shark Tank” treatment this weekend – complete with a face-to-face with Daymond John, star from the hit reality TV show.

John, an angel investor who’s been a regular on the ABC series in which budding entrepreneurs present their business ideas to a panel of industry titans, is the featured speaker at the university’s annual Eagle Works competition on Saturday, an event that has teams of students pitching their business ideas in “Shark Tank” fashion for a chance at cash prizes.

It’s part of an increased effort to encourage entrepreneurship on campus – Tech in recent years has added the iMakerSpace space, for example, and the iCube, or 3-D virtual reality technology – but it came mostly as a student-led initiative, said Cheryl Montgomery, director of development for the College of Business Administration. There was a demand for more classes and more hands-on experiences.

This is the third year for Eagle Works.

“This isn’t just about creating a business plan,” Montgomery told the UCBJ. “We’re really seeking to create innovative students.”

Caption Here!

This year’s competition has been months in the making. When registration first opened in October, 44 teams with 150 students signed up. Since the fall, Michael Aikens, director of entrepreneurship and innovation at Tennessee Tech, said, those original sign ups have self-selected down to 15 teams made up of 51 students. Those 15 teams will compete in a preliminary round of judging Saturday – they’ll present both a business plan and their pitch, sharing their ideas with a panel of judges as if they were potential investors. Eight teams will proceed to the main competition.

Eight will be narrowed to four, and those four teams will be in line for “substantial monetary awards,” in the form of scholarships, Aikens said. Tennessee Tech has raised over $20,000 from donors; the first-place team will win $8,000.


Eagle Works itself is unique in that it encourages students to work interdisciplinary. That means an engineer will team up with a nursing student, education major and/or accountant, etc.

“By doing that, they get out of their comfort zones, they learn more things, and they can make a better project,” Aikens said. “When students of different disciplines work together, that’s where the magic really happens.”

“Entrepreneurship is really a big field of focus across the nation right now,” he added. “At Tennessee Tech, we want to start graduating more student who are creating their own jobs than looking for jobs. That’s not to say everyone we graduate is going to go create their own business, but you can be an entrepreneur…by thinking outside the box to help shape whatever your task is. Those are the people that we need, the innovators and entrepreneurs, they’re the movers and shakers.”

Saturday’s panel of unnamed judges – Tech officials have been secretive with the names – include at least two former Upper Cumberland Business Journal Ovation Award winners – those awards are handed out annually to the region’s best of the best – for Spirit of Entrepreneurship. The finalist judges are “founders and creators of some of the nation’s largest companies,” Aikens said.

John’s appearance, at least, is no secret.

In addition to a keynote address scheduled for 2 p.m., John will afterward announce the winner of the Eagle Works competition. He will also view the students’ work during a closed reception at 1 p.m.

His speech will cap off the college’s “Year of the Shark” lecture series, or a year dedicated to entrepreneurship that featured several other related talkers. Barbara Corcoran, another regular on ABC’s Shark Tank, spoke to students in September, and Mike Lane, the New York Yankees’ vice president and CIO for technology and broadcasting, paid a visit to campus in February. Lane is a Cookeville native and Tech alumnus.

John, himself, started a clothing company, FUBU, in his mother’s basement and transformed it into a global fashion empire. He was part of Shark Tank’s inaugural cast of judges when the show premiered in 2009.

“I have been so impressed with Mr. John; we know he’ll craft remarks that are specific to what our students want to hear,” Montgomery said. “We’re very interested to hear what he has to say.”

Saturday’s competition will take place at the Bell Hall nursing building starting at 10 a.m. Tickets to John’s speech are RSVP-only for friends and family of student presenters. For more information, visit

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.