Gift will bring new ideas to life


As a venture capitalist, Class of ‘86 alumnus David Aronoff is in the business of financing entrepreneurs. 

Now, he’s hoping to do the same at the collegiate level. 

Aronoff and his wife Jessica have donated $100,000 to support student experiential learning at the School of Business Administration (BSAD) through the creation of the Business Pitch Competition.

Currently a general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners, Aronoff said he believes that the event will give students a chance to exercise their own knowledge and creativity in an enriching and competitive undertaking.

“Whether they’re going to be entrepreneurs or not, the training and preparation around this is a fantastic experience,” he said.

The dean of BSAD, Sanjay Sharma, said that this competition is the latest addition to the fine-tuned business school curriculum focused on practical applications of business learning, including internships, live projects and guest speakers.

“This competition will hone the skills of students who want to start their own businesses as they develop and present their ideas to a select group of judges that include prominent and successful alumni and leading members of the business community,” Sharma said. 

The event is scheduled to take place on homecoming weekend (Oct. 4 – 6) and for all homecoming weekends thereafter, a University Communications press release stated.

According to Jason Fish, a junior and the president of the Entrepreneurship Club, faculty and alumni will select the top five business plans submitted at the event, which will be open for all undergraduates to attend.

The finalists will then be asked to make a 5-minute pitch to three notable judges who have yet to be determined.

“The unanimous winner will take home a $3,000 cash prize and an automatic entry into the MassChallenge, an internationally recognized pitch competition held in Boston,” Fish said. “Second place will take $1,000 and third will take $500.”

Sharma, who was a major proponent of case competitions during his tenure at the John D. Molson Business School, said that the event could lead to further projects for the participants.

“There is the potential for some of these ideas to attract the attention of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists that will be judging,” he said. “They get valuable feedback and mentoring that gets them started on the road to setting up their own business upon graduation.”

While Sharma said that the success rate of business ideas translating into viable start-ups is roughly 20 percent, he believes that business idea pitch competitions place students in a position that can raise the possibility of success. 

While it may be too early to gauge the nature of expected business proposals, Sharma said he is hopeful that this could be an opportunity to develop business models that address problems relevant to both Vermont and the planet.

He listed problems such as climate change, clean energy, clean water, grassroots economic development, market access, education access, hygiene and health, and poverty.

For Aronoff, the donation seemed like a long-overdue debt to a University that had provided him with a free education and his first business experience.

One of the first recipients of the Green and Gold scholarship, then called the Vermont scholarship, Aronoff essentially earned himself a free ride, which made the possibility of college a reality. 

As a member of the Sigma Phi fraternity during his college years, Aronoff was also able to start his own business with his fraternity brothers.

“It was a news service, and we would deliver subscriptions to students,” he said. “It gave us weekend cash and helped pay for books. Although it was handed down through the frat, we were the first to computerize it.”

Calling UVM a special place that he feels deeply connected to, Aronoff said that he hopes students interested in business will take the business pitch competition seriously.

Aronoff ended by offering a piece of advice to current BSAD students:

“Life has a way of moving very quickly, and work is such a meaningful part of your life that to waste it is a shame,” he said. “The best thing you can do is find something you truly love doing.”