Local girl earns top prize in ‘Shark Tank’ style business competition
The 10 finalists in this year’s Suffolk University 10K Idea Pitch Competition came prepared with new concepts that ranged from washable yoga mats to a way of detecting Alzheimer’s disease early with a noninvasive test.
But at the end of the final round, it was Study Buddies Tutoring, an online tutoring and mentoring company for middle and high school students created by Steamboat Springs native Greta Thurston, that took home the top prize.
Thurston, a junior majoring in business at Suffolk University in Boston, will use the $10,000 first-place prize for search engine optimization, advertising and making sure the business’s website is easy for parents looking to find mentors or tutors for their children.
Study Buddies uses college students as the tutors or, as Thurston prefers to call them, “academic mentors.”
“The idea behind using college students to tutor middle or high school students is that they can also be mentors for the younger students, not just boring tutors,” she said. “Our mentors are role models that the younger students can look up to and learn from, and there is a little bit more of a relationship than just tutoring.”
Thurston, who is a full-time student who also works full-time at night, came up with the idea while at home on a break from school.
“I was volunteering with 4-H and teaching horseback riding lessons to middle and high school students,” Thurston said. “A big part of what 4-H is has to do with mentorship, and so I had a couple parents ask me about tutoring for their kids, and that got me thinking.”
Thurston felt the parents had asked her to tutor because they wanted to find somebody their children could relate to but also be a role model.
When Thurston returned to college last fall, she recruited nine mentors, set up a website and started the business. Because of COVID-19 and the movement to online platforms, Thurston felt the timing for her idea was perfect. It allowed college students who were away from home to make money and also provided a service for middle and high school students anywhere in the county who needed academic help.
When Suffolk opened submissions for its idea pitch competition, Study Buddies Tutoring was already up and running. The contest followed a “Shark Tank” format and was open to all students at Suffolk’s arts, science, business and law schools.
“It was something that I was comfortable with,” Thurston said of making the presentation. “I was mostly just excited to be able to present and share my company with the judges.”
The event, hosted by the Center for Entrepreneurship, offered a $10,000 top prize funded by a Suffolk graduate’s company, Green Rabbit. All finalists received $250 in seed money and the opportunity to work with a coach.
The competition started with an initial round where participants submitted detailed business plans, explained what their plans were for the $10,000 prize and presented a video highlighting their companies. In the first round, the field was trimmed to the top 10 entrants, and those companies were paired with a coach and started preparing a 3-minute presentation for judges.
Thurston was paired with coach Joanna Trainor, who earned her MBA from Suffolk in 2007. Together, they worked to fine tune Thurston’s final presentation and identify the audience she was presenting the idea to — many of the judges were Suffolk graduates and connected to the community.
The key was making sure the judges understood how Study Buddies was going to benefit the Suffolk community, Thurston said, and how having students from the university working with younger students was going to help promote Suffolk for future students.
“What we were working on last week was how you always have to keep your audience in mind and how do you finish strong,” Trainor said. “So she truly reworked the end of her pitch that last week while she was on vacation with her family.”
Trainor said she could not have been more impressed with Thurston. She said the idea for Study Buddies was great as it filled a need for mentors of youth and gave college students job opportunities.
“I think the biggest thing was the essence of Greta and her ability to get things done without obstacles. There are no obstacles for Greta,” Trainor said. “Other people might think that working full-time and going to school full-time is going to be tricky … but these things are not obstacles for Greta, and her ability to get things done is going to take her so far in life.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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