PSU’s Summer Business Institute: Solving World Problems One Pitchfest At a Time
Author: Melinda Crouchley
Posted: August 29, 2018

August 3 was a quiet, overcast Friday on the PSU campus. But the Karl Miller Center atrium was filled with sound, bodies, and light. The audio visual techs milled around the powerpoint projector and screen at the base of the atrium steps, while a few feet away, a soundboard technician clipped lapel mics to the clothing of a group of five high school students. 

The small group stepped in front of the screen. They looked at the row of judges sitting directly in front of them, the sharks in the shark tank. They looked up at the rows filled with fellow students, PSU faculty and staff, and their family members. 

The first speaker cleared her throat. 

The Summer Business Institute (SBI) Pitchfest had just begun.

Nineteen high school students from around Oregon and Washington participated in the event, a culmination of their six-day immersion in the SBI at The School of Business.
Pitching to Solve Problems
Four student groups, each with a uniquely packaged product and business venture, pitched to a panel of investors their innovative concepts designed to meet serious social needs in the Portland metro area and beyond. 

While each concept was carefully researched and passionately presented, only one group received “funding” and took home the “grand prize.” This year, the winning group was Little Green Village. The group proposed an eco-housing initiative that would take homeless individuals off the streets while also adding a source of local produce to the economy. 

All four groups impressed the panel of esteemed judges with their ability to conceive an idea and perfect a pitch in less than a week. The students were mentored by School of Business faculty and staff: Diversity Outreach Retention and Recruitment Specialist Evan T. Green, Diversity Outreach Retention and Recruitment Specialist Eunice Makinde, and Adjunct Professor Craig Ostbo.

Ostbo is in his fourth year leading the educational components of the program and plans to do so for the 2019 cohort as well. He cites this program as one of his favorite ways to engage with PSU. 

“These young men and women continue to blow me away. It's such a joy being around them. I let them know at the beginning of each program that I'm going to learn more from them than they will learn from me. These kids inspire me and make me feel so comfortable with the direction of our future,” said Ostbo. 

Throughout his time with the project, Ostbo has seen a positive trend among students, especially in preparation for the final pitch presentations. 

“When we ask these young students to come up with a business solution to a societal problem, they don't have just one, they have eight different concepts,” said Ostbo. “Their most difficult challenge is deciding which concept to develop.”
A Bright Future Ahead
Ostbo believes this program is achieving its goal of exposing high school students to higher education. Green echoes the sentiment.

“SBI is a hands-on opportunity to learn about B Corps, corporate responsibility, collaboration, and how to take a broad concept and create a product,” said Green. “Students are challenged to be adults, treated like college students, and expected to perform at the highest level.”

Day one, these high school students from varying backgrounds step onto campus. 

“Five days later they walk out with a college credit, knowing they can solve some of our most pressing world problems. And that there is a path for them to go to college,” said Ostbo. 

Ostbo’s belief in the program is so strong that he waived his SBI salary for the last two years in support of setting up a scholarship so graduates of the SBI have a financial means to attend PSU’s School of Business after they graduate from high school. 

Green has been instrumental in working with foundation to further fund the scholarships. Green also spreads the word amongst students when recruiting for the program, and at least two SBI graduates have applied for the scholarships and plan to enroll at The School of Business. 

Ostbo and Green both believe there is room to expand the program to support additional students, as well as opportunity for the business community to increase their involvement either through sponsorships, site visits, or scholarship donations. 
For more information about the program, visit: