Lesko, Brofman and cash prizes at Molloy pitch event

Event organizer Mike Russo, a Molloy senior and the founder of Sticky Quotes.

The popularity of the ABC’s Shark Tank has spawned a number of imitations, including flattery from LaunchPad, NYIT and Stony Brook University.

The latest, organized by a Molloy student, will pit students from the Rockville Centre college against budding entrepreneurs from other Island schools on Nov. 17 at Molloy’s Madison Theatre.

The prizes are relatively moderate – $1,000 total split among the top three pitchers, with first taking the $500 lion’s share – but the judges are top-shelf, including Mark Lesko, former executive director of regional business booster Accelerate Long Island and now heading Hofstra University’s Center for Entrepreneurship. Also scheduled to weigh in on the two-minutes pitches, and conduct three-minute follow-up Q&As, are Lisa Harris, founder and CEO of Northport-based culinary startup Morning Sunshine Kitchen, and Harvey Brofman, a 25-year veteran entrepreneur with a long résumé of pioneering new healthcare informatics, most recently as co-founder of Garden City Park VC firm AngelFire Ventures.

While the prize pot isn’t huge, the big idea is to “promote entrepreneurship and innovation within our local Long Island communities, specifically within the youth generation,” according to event organizer Mike Russo, a senior in Molloy’s business and liberal arts honors programs and founder of the college’s Entrepreneurship Club.

“The possibilities of this event in terms of networking are endless for attendees, competitors and judges,” Russo told Innovate LI. “There’s the possibility of establishing mentor/mentee relationships, investor relationships, co-founder or co-working relationships and even college recruitment for the participating high school students.”

Russo is also the inventor of Sticky Quotes, a series of inspirational post-it notes already available online and at various Long Island retailers, with a portion of the proceeds supporting environmental education. With his sights set on an MBA from Harvard or Stanford, Russo – a part-time intern at entrepreneur Aaron Foss’ Port Jefferson tech startup Nomobobo – is planning a career with a renewable-energy focus.

Since he helped several participants in the College Business Pitch Competition sharpen their presentations, he won’t be pitching Sticky Notes on Nov. 17. But the event organizer knows firsthand how important competitions like this can be to impressionable impresarios.

Sticky Notes won a Shark Tank-like competition held last spring at Molloy College, and also took Best Overall and Products and Services honors – and a $5,000 prize – in the Long Island regional portion of New York State’s 2014 business plan competition.

While a prior commitment stopped him from attending the state finals – he was presenting at Euroweek, an innovation-focused event in Poland – Sticky Notes’ strong showings taught Russo the true benefits of the pitch.

Now he’s hoping to deliver the same benefits to high schoolers from Syosset, Baldwin, East Islip and Hempstead, as well as collegians from Molloy, Stony Brook University, Hofstra and Mercy College. And even though he’s not among the competitors, Russo still plans to be involved on Nov. 17, “in the form of a host, guest judge, MC or something.”

“From my experience at events such as this one, I’ve ultimately obtained loans to fund my business and prize money to build my business debt-free,” the entrepreneur said. “But most importantly, (I received) mentorship from local, successful entrepreneurs.”

Tickets to the Nov. 17 event are free.