MTSU students thrown into 'Shark Tank' to vie for cash

·3 min read

Middle Tennessee State University business instructor Dennis Gupton wants to teach his students some tough lessons. And he throws them into a “Shark Tank”-style competition to do it.

At the end of Gupton’s New Venture Creation course, he partners with local financial institutions for the closest real-world experience he can give them.

“I see so many people getting into trying their own business and they have no idea what they are doing,” said Gupton, a longtime entrepreneur who owns a catering business. “I want to make this as hard as I can so they understand what they are getting into and be as ready as possible before they spend $100,000.”

Get in the 'Shark Tank'

By the end of the semester, students present their projects to the class.

The top six presentations earn the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to a trio of Murfreesboro professional financiers and vie for bragging rights and the chance of cash prizes ranging from $100 to $1,200.

"I'm trying to teach them to be convincing," Gupton said. "I try to teach them to be able to back up what they say."

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Students of MTSU business management instructor Dennis Gupton, pose after a 'Shark Tank'-style competition he hosts every semester. Financial advisors from the community serve as judges. Participating in the event are, from left, First Bank's Leroy Cunningham, Pinnacle's Jamie Harrington; MTSU's Victoria Doerger, Diego Perez, Ashley Mimms, Rieke Nielsen, Gupton, Jacob Campbell and Jordan Birchfield; and Pinnacle's Ronnie Martin.
Students of MTSU business management instructor Dennis Gupton, pose after a 'Shark Tank'-style competition he hosts every semester. Financial advisors from the community serve as judges. Participating in the event are, from left, First Bank's Leroy Cunningham, Pinnacle's Jamie Harrington; MTSU's Victoria Doerger, Diego Perez, Ashley Mimms, Rieke Nielsen, Gupton, Jacob Campbell and Jordan Birchfield; and Pinnacle's Ronnie Martin.

The students are given six minutes for their presentations. The judges get 12 minutes to ask questions and challenge the students regarding the business proposals.

Traditionally, the judges don't hold back on the queries and advice for students contemplating opening a business.

Students got advice as well as a lesson on how bank loans work.

"A lot of times if you're doing a buildout, the lessor will finance a buildout into the rent," said Pinnacle Bank financial advisor Ronnie Martin. "You have to be strategic with your money."

Fellow Pinnacle advisor Jamie Harrington joined the panel alongside First Bank's Leroy Cunningham.

Pitching projects

Rieke Nielsen, an MTSU exchange student from Scotland, brought treats she plans to make for her business, Wee Cuppa Joes artisan coffee shop. She was the winner, garnering $1,200, in a 'Shark Tank'-style competition hosted by her business management instructor, Dennis Gupton.
Rieke Nielsen, an MTSU exchange student from Scotland, brought treats she plans to make for her business, Wee Cuppa Joes artisan coffee shop. She was the winner, garnering $1,200, in a 'Shark Tank'-style competition hosted by her business management instructor, Dennis Gupton.

There were drastically different business ideas presented.

  • Jordan Birchfield proposed a basketball goal that could be hitched to a vehicle.

  • Victoria Doerger wants to open a business that sells THC-infused food and products.

  • Diego Perez designs custom-crafted rugs, which he already sells.

  • Fashion design student Ashley Mimms hopes to open a store that specializes in affordable boutique-style clothing.

  • Musician Jacob Campbell plans to start an instrument repair business.

But it was Scottish university exchange student Rieke Nielsen’s business plan for a gourmet bakery and coffee shop that won the top approval of judges. She received $1,200 that she plans to put into building her business.

“I knew I wanted to build my own business and opening up a coffee shop has been on my mind for 10 years,” said Nielsen, who grew up baking with her German mother. “But I never really knew where to start.”

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Nielsen said Gupton’s class, as well as another marketing course at MTSU, helped her hone business skills and put her on a clearer path for opening a café.

“It really helped me to learn about how tough it can be to open up a business and (Gupton) tells it how it really is,” Nielsen said. “Especially with the idea of pitching my plan, I feel like I actually got someone to talk to. This is a great opportunity.”

Reach reporter Nancy DeGennaro at degennaro@dnj.com.

This article originally appeared on Murfreesboro Daily News Journal: MTSU students thrown into 'Shark Tank' to vie for cash