A team from the Warrington College of Business at the University of Florida went from being on a waitlist to winning first place in the eighth annual Stock Pitch competition held by the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia on Feb. 25.
Marek Hornak, a finance student from the Czech Republic, said he felt nervous just after their name was called as one of the three finalists, and he began to realize the magnitude of the event. Not only did his performance affect the rest of his team, but it had the potential to leave a lasting impression of Florida on high-ranking industry professionals.
“I’m not a bad public speaker, but I haven’t been in front of such a big crowd or such an important event for a while,” he said. “So I was just sitting there trying to, like, calm myself down.”
He said the confidence he’s gained through the group’s extensive preparation helped him collect himself as he walked up to the podium to present their stock pitch for ROKU, a distributor of streaming content.
The competition in Athens, Georgia, welcomed 12 stock pitch teams representing a bevy of schools from across the United States. A team gathers that information to provide a summary about a potential stock investment to veterans in the business finance industry. The University of Texas (Austin), Virginia Tech, Virginia, Connecticut, Auburn, Georgia, Florida participated and were there to compete for first, second and third place.
According to Elsa Evans, president of the Terry Student Manage Investment Fund, this year saw 23 teams, the most applicants in the contest’s history.
Initially, the ROKU team failed to earn a bid as a top 12 entrant, largely due to the desire to limit one school from making up one-fourth of competitors with two other UF-affiliated teams in the mix. They put their presentation preparation on the back burner as a result.
But with four days until the teams would converge at UGA, the event leaders notified the group that a team had dropped out, and ROKU was the pitch they decided to elevate.
The Florida team had limited time to develop a script for its presentation, but team members got to work.From Monday when they received the news until Thursday when round one took place, the team wrote and refined the script before traveling to Athens early Thursday morning.
Upon arrival, the team was greeted by Evans and met with the event organizers to check-in. Being one of three UF teams involved, she asked the ROKU team to clarify which group they were.
Hornak, without hesitation, said that he dubbed the team ‘the underdogs from the waitlist.’”
Evans brought up that statement again after the fact, he said.
“I feel like they came in with the mentality of we have something to prove, and I feel like that helped them a lot,” she said.
Hornak echoed her statement, saying that ROKU embraced that mentality.
While the win at an individual level provides an accolade to boast on their resumé, the magnitude of the victory breaks down a barrier for UF on a national scale.
“Part of what put UF Finance on the map was winning these competitions,” said Grant Stanish, a first-generation college student.
“We wanted to make it a focus of us to put the [Florida] investment fund back in the spotlight on the national stage,” Stanish said. “I’ve kind of made a name for myself by being able to pick stocks, and Marek made a name of being able to find really good research and make very good presentations. So, as [portfolio managers] of the investment fund, we wanted to get more respect than what we’ve been getting recently. This was our way to do that.”
James Donnelly, a team member and sophomore, said he was proud to put his hometown of Gainesville on the map.
He said he values being a Gator and wants to highlight the caliber of talent Florida has. “There are a lot of great people already here. People don’t necessarily realize that, especially in places like Wall Street. There are some really brilliant people at UF. It feels like winning a competition like this is getting some confirmation that that talent exists here.”
Despite the success, Stanish said expanding Florida’s national grasp in finance will take more than one victory. He looks to the younger students to carry on that legacy going forward.
Okaty — the lone freshman on the team — presents the best opportunity for longevity.
“Overall, it was a really great opportunity,” he said. “Not only to compete with people that were really high caliber talent from different universities, but also to work alongside Marek, Grant and James, who all take strong mentor roles, and I look up to them.”
Soaking in the attention to detail and thought processes of his team members, who have had more time in than the field, Okaty said he believes he has grown because of it. He looks to do the same for freshmen when it becomes time for him to take over as a mentor within the Gators Student Investment Fund.
“I definitely can replicate this scenario in the future and kind of pay it forward the same way that they are doing for me now,” he said.
The ROKU team said they are not finished competing in stock pitch competitions. They look to build on their success in making a name for the University of Florida in the coming months.
Next, they look to take their idea to ENGAGE Undergraduate Investment Conference, the largest collegiate investment competition in North America hosted by the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.
Video submissions for the competition are due March 11, and the final round will occur on April 2 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.