Fish Ninja Labs catches top prize in PITCH Competition

contact: Mark Schwerin
| WMU News
Photo of Nate Norman.

Norman (Photo courtesy of the Haworth College of Business)

KALAMAZOO—A Western Michigan University student's idea for providing high-tech solutions for aquarium enthusiasts landed the top prize in a new competition for innovative business ideas.

Nate Norman, a sales and business marketing major from Portage, Mich., caught the top prize of $1,200 for his business idea for Fish Ninja Labs in PITCH: A WMU Business Pitch Competition. The business provides aquarium solutions for the everyday aquarium enthusiast through automated monitoring and maintenance.

"It was an honor to win first prize at PITCH," says Norman. "It was a great eye opener to the incredible network and support system within southwest Michigan for entrepreneurs. The panel of judges that WMU assembled was outstanding, and I was honored to network with all of them. Dr. John Mueller did a great job organizing the event. I would expect to see it grow even larger in the future."

About the competition

Students from across WMU were invited to present their innovative business ideas. The competition was organized by the Department of Management in the Haworth College of Business and sponsored by Educational Community Credit Union.

The competition drew 32 pitch teams, the maximum capacity for the event, and students were judged in progressive rounds by faculty, administrators and business community members, including many local business owners.

The field was narrowed to eight teams for the final round of competition. In addition to Norman, prizes also were awarded to:

  • Erick Chmelar, an MBA student from Midland, Mich., who won second place and a prize of $700 for TPimPAWster, a spinning cylindrical cat toy that keeps cats occupied and out of mischief. Chmelar also captured the $200 prize for the most entertaining pitch, which was awarded by audience votes.
  • A team of students composed of Ashley Agler, a graduate student in earth science from Watervliet, Mich., John Fry, a graduate student in educational leadership from Boyne City, Mich., Pawel Majkowski, an MBA student from Ann Arbor, Mich., and Ryan McNally, an MBA student from Portage, Mich., who won third place and a prize of $400 for Tech Guardian, an app that disables a teen driver's ability to text or make non-emergency calls while driving.

"ECCU is pleased to have been a part of PITCH by sponsoring the event," says Christine Camp, ECCU's vice president for marketing. "As a judge, I was impressed with both the quality of the presentations and the enthusiasm that the students had for their unique business ideas. I was rooting for them all."

Dr. John Mueller, assistant professor of management and faculty organizer of the event, says he was impressed by the support the event received both on campus and in the broader community.

"To have judges from across campus during the first round was something special," he says. "It showed the campus-wide support for the competition and entrepreneurial activity at WMU. Then, to have judges on the second day come from the local business community shows the support in southwest Michigan. We look forward to getting more students around WMU excited about and involved with the event going forward."

Visit to view the pitches of the finalists.