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Darla Moore School of Business

The Proving Ground winners represent UofSC at SEC Student Pitch Competition, UofSC to host in 2021

USC will host in October 2021 the SEC Student Pitch Competition, which is an entrepreneurial challenge for SEC universities’ students. USC students Jonah Rotholz and Nick Jeffcoat competed against 14 other collegiate teams, some of which included Ph.D. students, in the 2020 SEC Student Pitch Competition hosted virtually by the University of Georgia in the fall. Although they did not reach the finals, Rotholz and Jeffcoat gained valuable pitching experience.

Rotholz and Jeffcoat have been hard at work developing parAmino, a product that aims to pare down customer costs for purchasing solar panels for their homes by providing a more efficient process for narrowing prospective buyers.

The two students are both seniors at USC in the College of Information and Communications, Rotholz an information science major and Jeffcoat an advertising major. They met in 2018 while working on a political campaign and felt that their skill-sets overlapped and complimented each other.

“Nick and I met working on a political campaign in 2018 and we met up in a coffee shop to discuss different data sources, methodologies, etc.,” said Rotholz. “It was obvious that our skill-sets overlapped well, and if we were going to create something like parAnimo, it made sense to work together.”

Rotholz and Jeffcoat decided to focus their efforts on solar energy because electricity is something that everyone needs.

“Imagine if every time a car dealership wanted to sell a $45,000 car, they had to spend $15,000 finding one customer,” Rotholz said. “That'd be crazy, but that's exactly what's happening in the solar industry. Nick and I built a system to solve that problem."

Rotholz also has experience in the solar industry, both on the sales and operations side.

“When you buy energy from a utility company, you build zero equity,” Rotholz said. “Owning things, building equity, these are the building blocks of a stable and secure life. When a new technology comes along that can save people money, help them build equity and frees them from the practical monopolies we call ‘utility companies,’ that’s something worth exploring.”

Rotholz and Jeffcoat have had the opportunity to pitch their product at several competitions before the SEC competition, including the Moore School’s The Proving Ground competition. The Proving Ground accelerates innovative business concepts by helping USC students and recent alumni begin their entrepreneurial ventures. 

“When you pitch something, it’s almost like you’re interrogating yourself; it’s an essential part of refining any idea,” Rotholz said. “We also learned that the University of South Carolina has some incredibly cool alumni who believe in entrepreneurship and are willing to sponsor these sorts of events.”

For April 2020’s The Proving Ground, Rotholz and Jeffcoat gained valuable pitching experience and also won first place in the competition and $17,500 to invest in their company.

“It felt like ‘mission accomplished’ for around 48 hours, after which we realized the real challenge was only just beginning,” Rotholz said.

After winning The Proving Ground, Rotholz and Jefcoat advanced to compete in the 2020 SEC Student Pitch Competition held in October 2020. At this competition, the students virtually pitched their idea of parAmino and competed against students from 13 other SEC schools.

“It was fantastic, both hearing from other student-run startups and learning from a great panel of judges,” Rotholz said. “Presenting virtually is an interesting experience, it's more convenient than traveling to Georgia, but I think all the participants would've liked to be able to network in person.”

Although the pair did not walk away with the grand prize from the SEC Student Pitch Competition, Rotholz said that they gained valuable experience that they will incorporate into their future pitches.

“There's an incredible amount of entrepreneurial talent at SEC schools, and students with a wide range of experience have been able to build solutions to important problems,” Rotholz said. “Also, brevity matters. In its current form, parAnimo is a niche, industry-specific solution. When sharing it with a general audience, I think we need to focus less on background information and more on impact.”

Rotholz said they look forward to continuing to further develop and improve parAmino so that the product reaches its greatest potential. He and Jeffcoat are grateful to have had the opportunity to pitch at several competitions and are excited to see what happens next year when the 2021 SEC Student Pitch Competition is hosted here in Columbia, South Carolina.

-Claire McGrath

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.