UW-Whitewater: Student entrepreneur wins ‘Entrepreneur Idol’ elevator pitch competition

Contact: Bill Dougan

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WHITEWATER ­ A recent trip to Chicago paid dividends for University of Wisconsin-Whitewater young entrepreneur Jordan Leahy. The Darlington native won $3,000 in capital for his business, Clest LLC, at Northwestern University’s third annual elevator pitch competition. Leahy beat 30 teams from major universities including the University of Michigan, University of Chicago, DePaul University and UW-Madison.

The elevator pitch competition requires students to sell their business idea to someone in a very limited time frame ­ in this case, the time it takes for a short elevator ride.

“What’s absolutely terrific about Jordan’s win is that he beat students from some of the largest universities in the Midwest,” said Bill Dougan, a management professor and adviser of UW-Whitewater’s Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization. “This win is a confirmation of the quality of our students and of our programs in entrepreneurship.”

With the prize money comes the title “Entrepreneur Idol” and an internship worth $25,000 at Illinois Ventures, a seed and early-stage technology investment firm focused on research-derived companies in information technologies, physical sciences, life sciences and clean technology.

More rewarding than the prize money, however, were the connections Leahy made during the competition. “You never know when or where you’ll meet your next investor,” he said.

Case-in-point: The day after the event, Leahy took a phone call from one of the elevator pitch judges. Troy Henikoff, a co-founder of SurePayroll.com, the largest Internet-based payroll company in the nation, is interested in learning more about Clest and plans to meet with Leahy.

“These judges are the ‘real deal’ in terms of evaluation,” Dougan said. “They are very successful entrepreneurs and venture capitalists.”

This is not the first elevator pitch contest in which Leahy has won money. He recently won $300 at the national Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s elevator pitch competition.

“Jordan is just one example of the many entrepreneurial-inclined students at UW-Whitewater,” Dougan said. “He has excellent networking skills and has access to advice from very successful state entrepreneurs. He also has experience in starting and running businesses. It’s remarkable given his age.”

The 22-year-old Leahy launched his first business, a window-cleaning company, at age 15. Six years later, in October 2008, he successfully completed its sale. Today, he and UW-Whitewater alumnus Nick Guenther ’09 own and operate Clest LLC, a monitoring service for parents of teen drivers. Parents purchase safety decals that ask, “How’s my driving?” to place on the back of their teen’s vehicle. Motorists can report hazardous driving to parents by calling a toll-free telephone number displayed on the teen’s car.

“Our mission is improving parent confidence and teen driving accountability,” Leahy said.

Leahy spearheaded the first youth entrepreneurs conference held at UW-Whitewater Thursday, Nov. 19. More than 60 college students from Wisconsin attended the event, which was part of Global Entrepreneurship Week.

He was the 2008 UW-Whitewater Warhawk Business Plan Competition winner for the Rendlex Tool, an invention holding tools in the handles of cleaning implements.

For more information about Leahy or Clest, visit clestkiwi.com .