On April 11, three Blair parents and the CEO of a fast-growing sports fundraising platform called PledgeIt hosted a Society of Skeptics presentation that lightly mimicked the reality show Shark Tank, in which start-up companies pitch their businesses to investors.
In an hour-long program that included a pitch from Scott Shirley, CEO of PledgeIt, to real-life angel investors Liz Sigety P’16 ’18 ’20 ’21, John Moore P’19 and Ron Insana P’16 ’20 ’21, students and faculty haad the opportunity to learn about the growing network of individuals around the world who commit their own money to fledging and high-risk companies, often in the fields of technology or life sciences, at early stages of their development.
To watch a video of the presentation, filmed by Aidan Riano '20, click "play" below.
As a partner at Fox Rothschild, LLP, a law firm with over 750 attorneys nationwide, Ms. Sigety, based outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, co-chairs the firm’s Emerging Companies and Venture Finance practice, focusing on the representation of emerging technology and life science companies, as well as companies growing through franchising, licensing and distribution. She also is a Managing Director and Co-Founder of the angel investors network Delaware Crossing Investor Group, which was founded in 2004. With this kind of experience, it is fitting that she will lead the 2017 Herman Hollerith Lecture on Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Blair.
After a brief “moment of education,” during which Ms. Sigety explained what an angel investor group is and detail the main aspects of an entrepreneur’s pitch to angel investors, Ms. Sigety turned the mic over to Mr. Shirley, who pitched his company to the panel of investors, a presentation that was followed by questions from the panel and audience. Ms. Sigety’s fellow panelists have supported many companies over the course of their careers, with Mr. Moore personally funding many companies on behalf of Investors Circle Philadelphia, and Mr. Insana, a CNBC contributor, investing in alternative assets and small businesses in less-formal ways over the years. After the pitch, Mr. Insana questioned Mr. Shirley about his thoughts on the presentation and Mr. Moore gave feedback to PledgeIt and deliver the three-parent panel’s decision to the audience. This was followed by a question-and-answer session.
“Not only am I personally and professionally passionate about angel investing, but I know that Blair students will see more and more of an emphasis on entrepreneurship as they reach their next level of education,” said Ms. Sigety, who has committed her own resources to more than 30 start-ups through Delaware Crossing and supports entrepreneurship professionally through the representation of her clients and building an Emerging Companies Resource Center at Fox Rothschild. “It seems that every college and university has accelerators and incubators to help these early stage businesses grow. In many ways, starting a business is easier than ever, but breaking through as the next Facebook or StubHub is a whole lot harder.”
Beyond imparting to the Blair community the risks and rewards of angel investing, Ms. Sigety hopes her enthusiasm for the subject was infectious. “The Delaware Crossing Investor Group is my baby, and we will invest anywhere between $500,000 to $1.1 million a year, depending on how excited our members are about the companies that pitch us,” she explained. “You have to understand that it is a high-risk gamble sometimes; of 10 companies, about six will flat-out fail. But you hope that the one that does break through the roof makes up for those losses.”
The annual Herman Hollerith Lecture on Innovation and Entrepreneurship was established at Blair in 2001 by Richard Hollerith Jr., father of Susan S. Cashin '85 (formerly Susan Hollerith). The series is named in memory of Mr. Hollerith’s grandfather, Herman Hollerith, the son of German immigrants and an 1879 graduate of the Columbia College School of Mines. In 1890, Herman Hollerith developed an electrically driven census system that reads punch cards, and 21 years later, his office machine business merged with Computing-Tabulating-Recording Co., which changed its name to IBM in 1924. The Economist magazine has named the punch card/data tabulation revolution one of the most significant innovations in the last 500 years.
Blair’s Society of Skeptics was established as a forum for students and faculty to discuss and debate important global issues; it has grown to become one of the premier high school lecture series in the United States. Each week, speakers from the political, social, scientific, economic and literary arenas share their unique perspectives with students, who are encouraged to engage with presenters, asking questions and debating points of view.
The program was an outgrowth of the Blair International Society, begun in 1937. Forty years later, former history department chair Elliott Trommald, PhD, Hon.’65, established the modern Skeptics program as a regular forum for student discussion and debate; history teacher Martin Miller, PhD, took over in the mid-1980s and molded the program into a weekly lecture series, one that has since continued without interruption. Under the tutelage of Dr. Miller, Skeptics has featured a wide variety of speakers who are engaging, accomplished in their respective fields and often controversial. For a listing of upcoming Skeptics programs, please click here.