Student entrepreneur wins pitch competition



Senior marketing and management major Gabe Groothuis pitched his business idea for Groothuis Solutions, which provides services for high school students involved in mock trial.


On Oct. 9, UNI held an elevator pitch competition where 15 students pitched their business ideas. Gabe Groothuis, a senior majoring in marketing and management with a certificate in entrepreneurship, won with his pitch for Groothuis Solutions.

“I’m very competitive,” Groothuis said. “I love to compete, so I was definitely trying to win. There were some really good ideas. There are some businesses [in the competition] that are definitely further along in the process than I am, but I think a lot of it’s just trying to convince people and presenting well.”

Groothuis had 90 seconds to pitch his business idea. Required discussion points included the problem he was solving, the competition he would face and what landmarks he had achieved for his business so far.

As the winner, Groothuis received $500 for his business as well as an all-expenses-paid trip to the National Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization Conference in Kansas City in November.

At the conference, Groothuis will compete in another elevator pitch competition, this time against students from all across the country. The grand prize is $5,000.

Groothuis Solutions provides consulting and coaching services for high school students involved in mock trial. Groothuis himself participated in mock trial throughout high school. His team won the national competition during his senior year.

“What was a frustration for me was there just wasn’t a lot of resources out there to help supplement [our team’s training],” Groothuis said. “There’s usually a teacher who’s leading a program and then maybe an attorney will help out, or maybe you call an expert to come in and work with you. If you’re doing a case on like medical stuff, you might call your local doctor to ask them some questions if you don’t know. But as far as supplemental resources, there just wasn’t a whole lot out there. So, after I got done with high school, my program wanted me to come back and help out. So, I started teaching some workshops and doing some stuff remotely from here. It’s a great way to give back the knowledge that I have.”

Groothuis started helping his former mock trial program in the summer of 2016, right after he graduated high school. In 2017, he turned his mock trial consulting and coaching services into a business under the name Groothuis Solutions.

The first time Groothuis competed in the UNI Elevator Pitch Competition in 2017, he used a fake business concept from a class and placed second. After another year of building Groothuis Solutions, he decided to pitch his own business in the competition.

“A key aspect about a pitch is it shouldn’t be completely memorized,” Groothuis said. “Basically, I just started out by writing down what I wanted, and it’s always too long, and you just gotta start cutting away and cutting away and just giving enough that people will be interested and ask questions.”

For the national competition, Groothuis plans on making some changes to his winning pitch.

“It’s gotta be really concise,” Groothuis said. “I’ve been watching some YouTube videos and stuff. I’ve never been to the national competition before, so I’m just trying to see what other students are doing and it seems like a lot of them are really focused on landmarks to date. So, I wanted to focus more on projections and […] I want to stress that my goal is to build an online platform to make it more scalable to go nationwide.”

Unlike the UNI competition, the national conference does not release their criteria to the contestants in advance. All the students still have 90 seconds to present their pitch.

“I’m trying to be confident with it and honest — that’s a big thing,” Groothuis said. “If they can tell that you’re lying or faking, it’s not good.

Currently, Groothuis runs his business out of the R.J. McElroy Student Business Incubator in the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center. This is a space where high school and college students from around the Cedar Valley can work on growing their businesses.

Groothuis’ passion for entrepreneurship started when he was a child.

“I love to work,” Groothuis said. “I really do. I remember when I was a little kid, my brother and I would sell lemonade on the corner and I was mowing lawns for neighbors whenever I could. I’ve worked other jobs throughout college as well, but I definitely love entrepreneurship.”

Groothuis isn’t sure where the future will take him or his business, but he’s thankful for the people who have helped him so far. He wants to continue to give back.

“I’m definitely praying about it and seeing where the Lord leads,” Groothuis said. “I’m focused on growing [Groothuis Solutions] right now. I don’t know how big it could get. There really isn’t a lot of competition besides people who are doing this for free, so I really don’t know how big the market is for this. So, we’ll see. If it’s something the Lord opens up, I’d love to do it.”