Big Idea Pitch Competition

Maybe you've got a new idea for a business? Come pitch your big idea at the NIU Business Olympics. The Big Idea Pitch Competition is a competition for students who have a big idea for a new business and can't wait to share it. Come, pitch your idea, meet like-minded entrepreneurs and get valuable feed-back from judges and potential investors. Students can present as an individual or part of a team. You have up to five minutes to make your pitch. All students who register will be provided guidelines on the best way to prepare their pitch.


Individuals and teams (two-five members) have five minutes to pitch your new business idea to a panel of judges who will be rating it on the strength and feasibility of your idea. Your presentation will be followed by questions from the judges. Please note that no slides, visual aids, or prototypes will be allowed.

Key Questions Your Pitch Should Address

  • What is your technology, product or service? Briefly describe what you sell and the need it fulfills... what is the problem and what is your solution... how do you eliminate/reduce the "pain"
  • Who is your target market? Briefly state who you are selling this product or service to... how large is the market... what industry is it in?
  • How do you expect to make money/what is your business model? Describe the sources of revenue and how you intend to get the product/service to the buyer.
  • Who is your competition? Competition is positive as it confirms/verifies that a market exists... all products and services have competition.
  • What is your competitive advantage? What makes you different/unique... Why do you have an advantage over others... How will your company provide this product or service better than the competition?
  • Who is behind the company? "Bet on the jockey, not the horse"... Explain how your experiences give you credibility... you, your team, your advisory board, etc.

Elements of an Effective Pitch

  • When possible, tell a story
  • Have a "hook... an early statement that grabs listeners' attention
  • Be passionate, powerful, and energetic
  • Be goal oriented... end with a specific outcome in mind... a request
  • Be succinct, concise and clear
  • Pitch your business model more than your technology... don't overwhelm with technology or statistics
  • Don't cram... a little less info is better than speed talking
  • Revise regularly
  • Practice, practice, practice... pitch a friend or spouse... record and critique yourself

Submit Your Presentation

Submission deadline: March 26, 2021

Keynote Speaker

Ken Bahk, Ph.D.

Co-founder and managing partner of Kaleidoscope Health Ventures (KHV)

Ken Bahk, Ph.D. is the co-founder and managing partner of Kaleidoscope Health Ventures (KHV), a venture development firm with a mission to realize health equity for all by reinventing the health innovation model.  KHV brings together world-class startups, partners, investors, and talent to address socioeconomic and health issues while providing high-value services to support a new wave of life science startups and healthcare solutions. 

Prior, Dr. Bahk spent 19 years in life sciences and healthcare; enabling new technologies from idea to commercialization as a senior executive, venture and impact investor for family offices and board member for multiple market-leading exits. He has served in thought leadership roles for organizations including the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, Association for Molecular Pathology, the American Society for Microbiology, and for the topic of Innovation for the JP Morgan Annual Healthcare Conference and the White House.  

Ken is a member of the Board of Directors at Inflammatix and Project N95. He received his Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and MS in Neurobiology and Physiology from Northwestern University and his MBA from the Kellogg School of Management. 

Ken Bahk


Steve Byers

CEO, Byers Brewing

Steve grew up in the rural parts of Indian Creek School district. After middle school he moved in with his father in Sycamore, IL. Graduating in 2006 he didn’t know what to do for work or school. After an unsuccessful semester at NIU, he worked for a small family business in Sycamore called Soft Water City. Quickly he started taking classes at Kishwaukee College and eventually moved down to Illinois State University.  He settled into a Biology Education Major. Graduating in 2013, with 1 child he and his wife Megan moved back to DeKalb. After subbing for a year he landed a full-time position at Huntley Middle School in DeKalb. After 5 years of teaching, he moved to DeKalb High School. 

Byers Brewing Company began as the Free Range Beer Company with a friend that he homebrewed with. Over years of talking the idea began to take shape. The friend had decided not to be a part of the business. With just equity in their home, Steve and Megan were able to acquire financing to open the business.  Delays from the equipment manufacturer nearly cost too much before the doors even opened. Eventually the pieces came together and the doors were opened.

The Byers Brewing Company is a nanobrewery. Each batch of beer is only about 93 gallons. The business plan was to keep beer as fresh as possible and focus on sales in the taproom to maximize margins. Eventually, Steve would like to compete in national brewing competitions.  Brewing achievements would not only bring customers to the brewery but also help to reinvigorate the downtown area.

Steve Byers

Griff Ehrenstrom

Principal, Clarite Advisory, LLC, Palatine, IL

Griff Ehrenstrom is a specialist in the construction and delivery of messages that are differentiated and memorable. Griff advises on all aspects of sales process design, presentation coaching, and public speaking.

Prior to establishing Clarite, Griff managed the C&IS Consulting division of Northern Trust Company’s Global Sales. The group worked with sales and product people worldwide to develop and deliver market messages that are distinct and conducted a traditional management consultancy for large, complex clients and prospects of Northern Trust.

Prior to this position, Griff spent twelve years as division manager and a sales representative for North American Sales. The group is responsible for sales to institutional funds, large corporate ERISA, public funds, Taft-Hartley funds, insurance companies and the endowment/foundation marketplace. Before moving into sales, Griff was a product manager for Passport, Northern Trust's on-line information delivery tool. In this role, he was responsible for planning, development, testing, rollout and internal communications.

Before Griff began in product management, he served as an on-line delivery consultant, and an accountant.

Griff Ehrenstrom

Nicholas C. Dinges

CEO, Dinges Fire Company

My work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit started at the age of 10 when I began mowing yards in my hometown of Sublette, Illinois. Over the next 12 years, I developed a respected lawn care business servicing 76 accounts in Sublette, Amboy and Woodhaven Lakes (the World's Largest Campground). This experience allowed me to completely pay for college and graduate from Western Illinois University debt-free.

At the age of 22, I was hired as a Professional Firefighter/Paramedic for the City of Rockford, Illinois. This was the best job in the world (bar-none) and I was assigned to some of the busiest Engine, Ladder and Ambulance companies in the Midwest including Rockford E-1, E-2, Ladder-2 and Charlie-27 and enjoyed 20+ run days and many multi-fire shifts.

During the same period, I was given the opportunity to be part of the newly founded Illinois Fire Store and partnered in the business shortly after my 23rd Birthday. I truly enjoyed selling Fire, EMS and Rescue Equipment and we rapidly grew out of a small home office and into a one-room office in Amboy, Illinois. Over the next several years, I moved into the role as Vice-President of Sales and managed the growth of our organization into one of the premier Fire Equipment Distributors in the Midwest.

In 2011, I became the CEO/Owner and began to carry out my vision of the business as Dinges Fire Company (Amboy, Illinois):

  • 4x Sales Growth since 2016
  • Management of 20+ Full-time Staff
  • Management of 60+ 1099 Sales Staff
  • Sales Staff covering Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri
  • Fire Truck Sales Staff covering Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota
  • Launched Mobile Service Programs throughout the Midwest
  • Executed (2) Acquisitions in Wisconsin and Michigan
  • Trending to be Largest Fire Equipment Dealer in Midwest by 2025
  • Custom-built a Sales Portal/CRM Technology Application – DFC owns IP

Additional Career Highlights:

  • Assistant Fire Chief/Paramedic  – Sublette Fire Protection District (1997-2001, 2012-Present)
  • Career Firefighter/Paramedic – City of Rockford, IL (2001 – 2008)
  • Adjunct Instructor - Sauk Valley CC – Helped teach fire behavior program to 3,000+ FF’s
  • Owner Leatherhead Metals – Developed Product Line and Trademark Owner
  • Owner Dinges Mowing Company – Startup Lawn Mowing and Landscape Company
  • Investor in Vanguard Safety Wear – Firefighter, Rescue and Wildland Glove Distribution Co.
  • Investor in 911 Network – Software and eCommerce Platform for Public Safety
  • Consultant - Leatherhead Fire Tools – Developed Product Line and Distribution Launch
  • Board President – Sublette 365 – Created a Non-profit to support Sublette, Illinois
  • Board Member – Bradford Mutual Insurance
  • Board Member – Amboy Education Foundation
Nicholas C. Dinges

Susan Hagberg

CEO, Wild Goose Chase, Inc.

Susan Hagberg has served the commercial office, industrial, institutional, and agricultural markets for her entire professional career utilizing her background in environmental science. She has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture from the University of Illinois. She started Wild Goose Chase, Inc., an avian wildlife management company in 1998. Wild Goose Chase is at the forefront of bird management technology and techniques to help with all nuisance bird issues that negatively impact the: commercial, industrial, agriculture industries including dairy, fruit, grain, and poultry. The core values of quality service, results-oriented systems, science-based methods, and customer satisfaction have always been the company’s mission. Wild Goose Chase, Inc. is a certified Woman-Owned Business through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) and Woman-Owned Small Business as well as an Alumni of Goldman Sachs 10,00 Small Biasness program in 2018.

Susan Hagberg

Chloe Millard

CEO, M4 Venture Group

Chloe Millard is an NIU Huskie 2012 Alum that graduated with her Bachelors in Marketing and core emphasis in Professional Selling. She spent nearly 8 years of her career in Medical Device Sales and Pharmaceuticals before becoming a full-time entrepreneur in 2019. She launched her first startup in 2019 and acquired multiple facials bars in downtown Chicago before starting her own brand in the CBD space in 2020. Chloe now owns and operates her CBD company that has sales and distribution channels nationwide while overseeing day-to-day operations of her Chicago businesses. Chloe currently resides in the Chicagoland west suburbs with her husband, Ryan and two daughters, Hailey (3) and Elliana (1).

Chloe Millard

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