Freshmen Engineering Students Win Pitch Competition

Two engineering freshmen from Loyola Marymount University were awarded the $1,000 top prize in the Fred Kiesner Center for Entrepreneurship’s New Idea Pitch Competition. Masaki Takamatsu and Billy Walker won the contest for their presentation on developing a brake mechanism for skateboards.

Billy Walker (L) and Masaki Takamatsu (R) hold up their winning prototype, a brake mechanism for skateboards.

Years ago, Takamatsu, an engineering major from Japan, broke his collarbone while skateboarding. “That experience made me think about putting a brake on a skateboard,” he says. “I also watched people ride their boards downhill on campus. I noticed people would drag their shoes on the ground or jump off when they were going too fast.”

Takamatsu enlisted the help of Walker, a mechanical engineering student from Minnesota. A few months ago, the pair began working on a prototype of the brake which features a bar at the back of the skateboard that the rider can step on. A cable system would apply brake pads to the inner wheels.

The students’ advisor knew of their work on the skateboard prototype and encouraged them to enter the annual New Idea Pitch Competition sponsored by the Donald and Joyce Nores Entrepreneurial Endowment. Contestants have 90 seconds to present an idea and convince the judges it’s worthy of support.

“The competition encourages people to have an idea, work on the idea and be able to articulate it,” says David Choi, Ph.D., associate professor of entrepreneurship and director of the nationally ranked Fred Kiesner Center for Entrepreneurship. “In the real world, there are situations where you have to explain an idea in a very short period of time. You could meet an investor or CEO in an elevator and need to grab their interest.”

“We were less concerned about the prizes but just saw it as a great experience — a first step in learning how to present our ideas,” Walker says.

Their pitch opened with a skit of Takamatsu reliving his skateboarding accident, followed by a presentation of the prototype. The judges were impressed. “The product idea was functional, practical and doable,” Choi says. “There would be a market for it.”

Winning the contest capped off what both students say was a stellar first year of college. Walker says he chose to attend LMU because of its location and easy access to professors. Takamatsu was also attracted to the heart-of-Los Angeles location.

“I also feel the size of the school has been a benefit to our project,” Takamatsu adds. “I feel like we got more attention on this project, and more resources to work on it, than we would have received if we were at a bigger school.”