Dates, higher prize money announced for this year's Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge

East Carolina University, the College of Business and the Miller School of Entrepreneurship have announced that the third annual Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge will award more than $100,000 in cash prizes and in-kind services to this year’s winners.

According to the Miller School and Pirate Challenge organizers, the new award total, up from more than $77,000 awarded last year, makes it the largest student-focused entrepreneurship competition in the University of North Carolina system.

“The Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge is not just about awarding cash to startups,” said David Mayo, an instructor with the Miller School and Pirate Challenge organizer. “We view it as a startup development program that provides support services to help make all participants successful.”

The Pirate Challenge is a three-round pitch competition that’s open for any ECU student enrolled in the 2019/2020 academic year. Alumni who have an ECU student on their team can also participate.

Round one of the Pirate Challenge is Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2019, from noon to 2 p.m., on the lawn behind the Main Campus Student Center (MCSC). Twelve winning teams from round one will move on to the second round, which is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 20, 6-8:30 p.m., in room 249 of the MCSC. The Pirate Challenge will conclude in February 2020, date and time to be determined later.

This year, students can expect additional workshops and mentoring along with $30,000 of additional prizes,” said Mayo. “Everyone with an idea should enter.”

More than 150 student teams have competed since the challenge started in 2017.

To register for the third annual Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge, visit

(Photos by Rhett Butler)
Robert Ola of “Ola Customs” presents his company to Brenden Steiner during the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018.

Winners moving to the next level

Pirate Challenge finalists are leaving impressions at both the local and national level. Earlier this year, Simple & Sentimental, inaugural Pirate Challenge winner, opened a storefront in Greenville. The second Pirate Challenge winner, Vybe, now known as Barhound, plans to launch its nightlife-focused application later in 2019.

Other Pirate Challenge participants who have taken their businesses to the next level include Magus Pereira, an ECU computer science graduate, who won IBM’s inaugural Call for Code challenge earlier in 2019. He and his team earned $200,000 in prize money to develop his first responder, natural disaster product. Matt McCall was a finalist in the first Pirate Challenge. His company, Infinite Limits Solutions, provides professional and technical services to veterans and the government. He recently won a contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs, and off of that contract, he has won 38 task orders.

Andy Gilicinski

New to this year’s Pirate Challenge, Andy Gilicinski, global vice president for research development & engineering, SC Johnson & Son, will kick off the first-round competition by casting the first vote.

An active corporate research executive and entrepreneur, Gilicinski has focused his career on new products in a range of consumer product markets. He also has led teams to buy companies to grow corporate portfolios into fast-growing markets.

“I’m impressed by ECU’s commitment to entrepreneurship, and wish to encourage students’ passion, creativity and perseverance to become lifelong entrepreneurs in all the paths they take,” said Gilicinski.

“The work the Miller School has achieved in establishing an entrepreneurial foundation here at ECU is unparalleled,” said Dr. Paul Schwager, College of Business dean. “Each participant and each winner are adding to that foundation one brick at a time.”