Five budding entrepreneurs, armed only with PowerPoint presentations and demonstrations of their products, faced a panel of critical judges that included business executives from the banking, insurance and technology industries. It wasn’t an episode of “Shark Tank,” but rather the fifth annual Entrepreneurship Showcase at Columbia College on Friday.

The event, which is put on by the Fishman Center for Entrepreneurship, gave bright, young minds from across Columbia College’s nationwide network the opportunity to compete for $9,000 in prize money to help jumpstart their businesses.

The contest caught the attention of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, which sent representatives to open the event with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. Ann Merrifield, the Director of Alumni Relations at Columbia College and a member of the chamber of commerce, said the competition would have a positive effect on the students and their local business communities.

What a great way to grow entrepreneurship in a community — to encourage these folks to peddle their wares and show off what they’re doing,” Merrifield said. “I love Columbia College. I’m very proud of what we do.”

Whitney Jones, a student at the St. Louis campus, took first place and the $5,000 that came with it for her pitch about a clothing design and distribution company that caters to plus-sized women. Jones’ company, Liv and Kiss, has already secured deals with Walmart and boutiques in Chicago, Atlanta and St. Louis to sell dresses in sizes 14 to 36.

Accompanied by four women modeling the company’s “Holiday Collection,” Jones explained to the judges that finding fashionable and affordable clothing is difficult for plus-sized women. She said her market research involved asking potential clients what they were unable to find when they go shopping.

“We really go onto the streets and ask women what can they not find,” Jones said. “What is it that you’re looking for that would make your life easier when it comes to finding things to wear.”

Jones said her company would begin scaling up operations in January when it begins selling dresses to Walmart.

The second-place award of $3,000 went to Lamar Lockett, another St. Louis student, for his custom t-shirt design and production company called L-Tre. Nigisti HiSmith from the Orlando campus won the third-place prize of $1,000 for her organization Pearls of Grace, which raises social awareness for children in adverse situations.

The judges included Columbia College President Scott Dalrymple, local bank executives Karen Taylor and Shatenita Horton, insurance executive Mike Staloch and technology consultant Than Som. After each presentation, they asked questions of the student and offered critiques.

Dalrymple, who once taught business classes, said he saw a lot of merit in allowing student entrepreneurs to participate in competitions with real-life implications.

“Columbia College has always been an entrepreneurial place, and this is a very tangible example of that,” Dalrymple said. “We have a vibrant business school and center for entrepreneurship, and we encourage our students to think outside the box and get creative.”

In addition to Columbia College students and professors, a group of senior students from Moberly High School took in the pitches as members of the audience. Dan Kruse, a business teacher at the school, said the students were selected to take a new course on business and entrepreneurship that will begin next semester.

Kruse said he brought the class to observe the competition to prepare them for the rigors of the course and the business world.

“The students will be out in the community working with businesses, and they’re going to be doing pitches and giving presentations,” Kruse said. “I wanted them to see, with some serious money on the line, what it looks to give a professional presentation, get some questions and get some harsh feedback.”

Moberly student and president of the school’s DECA chapter Katherine Hager said watching the presentations gave her some idea of what to expect in the course next semester.

“With businesses coming in, whenever we have to pitch our ideas for their business, that is exactly what we’re going to be doing,” Hager said. “It’s a good precedent for us.”

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